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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Inspirational stories
- Subject: Novels
- Published: 09/05/2018
THE GOSPEL OF CEPHASBorn 1949, M, from Bridgwater, United Kingdom
By Peter W. Mills
“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It's just that the translations have gone wrong.” John Lennon 1940 - 1980
“History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” (Napoleon Bonaparte)
The Kingdom of Ladakh was unknown to most of the world in 1887. The small country lay between the Kunlun and Himalayan mountain ranges some 400 kilometers north-west of Nepal. On this day there was a blinding snow storm with howling winds sounding like the wailing of the damned. Dark shapes appeared in the blizzard. The shapes resolved themselves into a well-wrapped man riding a mule and five well-clad human figures, Sherpas, trudging with him on foot. The man on the mule peered out through a narrow gap in frosted wrappings that covered his head.
There was a sudden fall of ice from an overhanging rock-face. The mule, startled, jerked and bucked. The rider was thrown off with a cry into thick snow and rocks, where he lay moaning. While two of the Sherpas calmed the mule, the others examined the fallen man. They gently removed the frosted wrappings from his face. The man was European, not Asiatic. He groaned in agony.
“It’s my leg! My leg!”
There was some consternation among the Sherpas. They talked rapidly in Nepali. One of them pointed his arm and waved it in a northerly direction. The others nodded their agreement. They carefully helped the injured man onto the mule on his stomach, across the saddle, to protect his injured leg as best as possible, then the party set off again through the blizzard.
Occasionally, through brief gaps in the whipping snowstorm, a distant building could be discerned as they trudged nearer and nearer - the Tibetan Monastery of Hemis. It was towards this sanctuary that the Sherpas were now heading.
The injured man woke from his dream of pain. His eyes darted in all directions. There was no snowstorm; there was no snow. This was the first thing he realized. Then came a sudden chime ringing out followed by the sound of Tibetan monks chanting from some distance. He saw that he was lying on a low wooden bed and he was covered in Tibetan blankets. In moments his mind came back to work properly. He saw, on the far side of the room, two shaven-headed Buddhist monks silently attending to scrolls and incenses at an ornately painted wooden cabinet. Then he managed to turn his head to look in the other direction; he saw three saffron-robed monks sitting cross-legged beside him, gazing at him. One of them was very old indeed, wrinkled like a prune. The ancient man spoke a word.
The injured man stared at him somewhat blankly, not knowing the language. One of the two younger monks leaned slightly forward towards the injured man and spoke to him.
“He gives to you his affectionate and friendly greeting.”
“That was not a Tibetan word,” remarked the injured man. “What language do you speak?”
“I speak English, French, Russian, German, Latin, Chinese Mandarin, Tibetan, Hindi, Urdu and Pali. Here, we speak Pali.”
The injured man showed some surprise. “Pali – the ancient sacred language of Buddhism – I have heard of it, but I have never heard it spoken.”
“In many ways it fulfills a similar function for Buddhism as Latin does for Christianity. – Er… if you wish, a suitable polite reply to His Holiness the Abbot would be ‘patisammodanam’, which means “my friendly greeting in return.”
The injured man made the effort. “Pattisam… pattisama…”
The young monk spoke politely and encouragingly. “Patisammo-danam. It is all one word.”
The injured man turned his gaze to the ancient Abbot. “Patisammodanum.”
The ancient Abbot laughed freely, like a child, and slapped his hands on his knees. Then he said: “Hoti khema, nibbuti.”
“His Holiness wishes you to be at peace,” translated the younger monk. “You have been in a delirium and you have cried out in Russian, so I talk to you in that tongue.”
“You speak Russian very well,” replied the injured man. “Would you kindly tell His Holiness that I am extremely grateful to all of you, for granting me salvation from certain death in the blizzard.”
The young monk turned to the Abbot, saying. “Agantu katavidi jivitadana himpata.”
The ancient Abbot responded by replying; “Rakkha nuna akata mokkha yathabhuta. Tumha kannakitatta pariyesati tvam attanava.”
Turning back to the injured man, the young monk translated: “His Holiness says; we have perhaps given you shelter and life. Salvation is another matter altogether. This, you must seek for yourself.”
The injured man smiled. The Abbot smiled back, nodded and chuckled.
“The Abbot is very wise, and very compassionate,” stated the injured man. “Please tell him he has my gratitude. Tell him I will continue to pray in hope for my salvation.”
The young monk turned back to the Abbot. “Astumha ayam nara katavekita. Tassa vimokkha bho asissami panidahati.”
The wizened old Abbot placed his palms together and nodded at the injured man. He rose very stiffly, helped by the other monk, and left the room.
The young monk remained sitting cross-legged. “My name is Brother Nacca Sutta, and I am the learner of languages for the monastery of Hemis.”
“Surely, since you speak so many, you mean you are the teacher of languages?”
Brother Nacca Sutta smiled. “I will perhaps one day be a teacher when I have learned enough to tend and raise good people like a farmer tends and raises a good crop. When we have visitors, I am also the official interpreter.”
“You must have travelled widely to learn so many languages?”
“Oh yes. My father was a guide to the British army in Afghanistan. He and my mother were given the opportunity to travel back to England with the regiment. I was born in England in 1858 and when I was seven I was sent to Eton School, where I did rather well and learned Latin. When I reached nineteen I joined the British Army as a commissioned subaltern, and then became a lieutenant in the cavalry. I left the army and travelled widely. I learned many languages during that time. Finally, seeking peace of mind and spirit, I came to this sanctuary.”
The injured man smiled. “I was born in 1858 too - we are the same age, thirty-eight. I too was a cavalry officer, in the Imperial Army of the Tsar. My name is Nicolas Notovitch and I am now a journalist and writer.”
“Then we will have a lot to talk about in the coming days, which is just as well. Your leg is broken and will take time to heal. Your Sherpas have already departed for their villages while you lay in a fever, but I would seriously recommend that you remain as our guest until the passes open again in the spring. In the winter, it is certain death for a stranger to attempt to travel through our mountains.”
“That sounds sensible to me. I would be honored to accept your hospitality.”
“Brother Dasaka Thera, who is our medical learner, has instructed me not to tax your strength today. He set your bone yesterday with great skill and administered potions to help you sleep through the pain. Sleep now, and I shall return tomorrow, and we can talk some more.”
Notovitch the injured man closed his eyes. Brother Nacca Sutta rose silently to his feet, placed his hands in the prayer position, bowed and left the room.
There was distant chanting. Notovitch sat up on a pile of cushions eating rice from a wooden bowl with chopsticks. Brother Nacca Sutta entered the room and sat cross-legged on a cushion. “How are we today, Nicolas? Feeling any better?”
“Greatly improved, thank you,” replied Notovitch. “My fever departed during the night, and now I feel normal again except for the painful throbbing in my leg. Sometimes the splints prevent me from getting into a comfortable position, but this has to be expected for the sake of achieving my proper health again.”
Brother Nacca Sutta laughed. “Spoken like a true Buddhist, Nicolas. We must accept the blows of the imperfect world whilst improving our inner being towards the state of ultimate perfection.”
Notovitch snorted. “Well, I’m trying to make a start. I confess, as I look at our world, I have often wondered whether there can be any such thing as perfection.”
“Ah - but perhaps this is because you are looking for perfection from within an imperfect body, an imperfect mind, and an imperfect soul?”
“I should have known better than grumble to a Buddhist!”
“I promise I shall try not to preach at you too much. But you must be growing bored trapped in your bed. We have a very great library here, and I am certain there will be something in it to interest you. If you wish, I will read to you?”
Brother Nacca Sutta assisted Notovitch, who was walking with crutches. They entered the monastery library. Spectacularly, there were seemingly endless shelves bearing thousands of rolled-up scrolls. There were many tables with benches and stools. Near the entrance, four Buddhist monks were painstakingly copying old scrolls onto new parchment. Nearby, an elderly monk was examining shelves and in the background could be heard the continual sound of distant chanting.
Brother Nacca Sutta gestured with his hand. “There are more than fifty thousand books kept here, mostly in the form of traditional scrolls, but also some which open into pages between covers, of the type you are more familiar with in the West.”
“Impressive. Very impressive. Is this also where new books are written?”
“Not exactly. The monks you can observe writing are not creating new books. They are re-writing very ancient scrolls which are in danger of disintegrating because of their great age. Our tradition is to only copy our books by hand, which we think imparts to them a special significance of continuity with the original author, even though that author might have lived over a thousand years ago.”
Notivitch raised his eyebrows. “You have books that old?”
“Oh, certainly. When we copy a fading scroll, the copyist records the year of his copy and all earlier copying dates. Thus, each book also contains a record of its journey through time to the present. Some of our texts can be dated to an original written perhaps over two thousand years ago.”
“You really have texts dating back that far?”
“Oh indeed. We have copies of certain texts written in the Gandhari language which is descended from Vedic Sanskrit spoken some four thousand years ago. The original scrolls have long since perished into dust, but copies record each word faithfully.”
“I would dearly like to see records that old.”
“Then it is mere age which impresses you? There are certain trees in the lowlands which are as old as that, perhaps some that are even older. Would you cherish them as much? And the mountains are older still, and the earth is most ancient, and the Sun and Moon and stars.”
Notovitch smiled. “Ah, but in those things you are speaking about nature, which achieves perfection without being touched by the hand of Man. I speak only of voices not heard for many centuries, yet which still speak to the enquiring mind and soul.”
Brother Nacca Sutta clapped his hands briefly in delighted quiet applause. “You have a great gift of understanding, my brother. We must have some long discussions before the Spring releases you from our care.”
“And until then, my brother, you promised you would translate some of these wonderful scrolls into Russian as you read them to me?”
“Indeed I will. This will interest me too. What kind of text are you in the mood for?”
“Something old, I think,” said Notovitch reflectively. “Something ancient. Then we can work our way up to the present day.”
“Then the present day will race away ahead of us more quickly than our reading can ever manage to catch up with it, even if we should live ten thousand years! Find a seat. I shall speak to the Archivist.”
Notovitch sat down carefully and with some difficulty, favouring his broken leg. Brother Nacca Sutta spoke quietly to the old Archivist, who nodded and walked slowly into another room, out of sight. Brother Nacca Sutta picked up a sloping scroll-stand, down which a text could be carefully unrolled section by section. They both waited patiently for the ancient Archivist to return. Brother Nacca Sutta spoke conversationally;
“The Archivist says he knows of a text he believes may suit your preference. He says it is written in Pali, so I shall be able to speak it in Russian to you quite easily. He says he read it seventy years ago and remembers where he put it. He believes the original was written between the Buddhist years 575 and 585. This would be about 30 to 40 AD in the Western calendar.”
Soon the Archivist returned carrying a small open-topped wooden box in which there were five rolled scrolls, each with a wooden spindle at its centre. Brother Nacca Sutta took the box reverently and both he and the Archivist bowed their heads to each other. The Archivist walked slowly away as Brother Nacca Sutta sat down and placed the first scroll on the stand, studying it carefully. He pointed.
“These figures at the top record the copying of this text. The first copy was made in the western year 150 AD, when the original scroll was just over a century old. The second was made in the year 340 AD; the third in 485; the fourth in 630; the fifth in 815; the sixth in 979; then 1099; then 1163; 1308; 1402; 1627; and this latest copy in 1786, one hundred and one years ago.”
Notovitch reached out a hand and touched the scroll very gently. “It seems to possess an echo of thoughts travelling across gulfs of time and whispering into my heart.”
“You are a poet as well, then. I shall read it to you. It is named here as the Book of Cephas.”
Brother Nacca Sutta started to read the scroll aloud. “Herein is the testimony of the Hebrew man Shim’on Cephas, which is Simon the Rock, recorded by me, the scribe Hippocrates of Alexandria. Hear, then, the words of Cephas. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. In Him was life, and the life of God was the Light and Understanding of men...” As he spoke, the monastery library seemed to fade away and their minds could perceive the images suggested by the ancient text…
“… In Him was life, and the life of God was the Light and Understanding of men. And the light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness understands it not.”
The man speaking was standing knee-deep in a river. He was bearded and wore only a loin-cloth. A woman had waded out to where he stood and he supported her back with one hand, pinching her nose shut with the other as he immersed her briefly. On the bank a small crowd of people talked amongst themselves, some of them wet from baptism.
In the darkness came the voice of one crying in the wilderness, and the voice was the voice of a man whose name was Yohanan, and he was moved to announce the Light of God in the darkness. Yohanan baptised people in the wilderness and preached a reawakening through repentance from the sins of darkness whenever people desired to receive the light into their hearts. And there went out to him people from all the land of Judea, and all who went were baptized by Yohanan in the river Jordan, being cleansed of their darkness of spirit, thought and deed.
And Yohanan was clothed with the hide of a camel and a girdle of skin about his loins. And he ate not the food brought and offered to him, but ate only locusts and wild honey. And he preached to the crowds on many different days and to many different people, saying that one anointed by God will come, as in the scriptures of the Prophets, and will not baptize with water, but will baptize the hearts of people with the understanding of God…
The day was bright and outside a small village a caravan approached with several loaded camels, some riders on horseback and half a dozen mules carrying baggage. They headed past the settlement of simple mud-brick buildings, where one of their number left them and walked on foot towards the settlement. Turning, he sadly waved farewell as he watched the caravan depart. He was a young man with a small, neat beard and long black plaited hair. He turned to enter the house but suddenly came face-to-face with a woman of about 45 who was carrying a basket of food. She looked at him for a long moment, then suddenly screamed and dropped the basket.
So it was, in those days, that Issa returned to Nat’zeret in Galilee, where he was welcomed by his mother Miriam and his brothers and his sisters after a long absence of many years. He had been in the East of the world in the company of wise men, and they were saddened that he would leave them. But they had consulted his birth stars in the East, which showed to them Issa’s destiny, and they followed this. And, departing, they bade him farewell with many gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And he came to dwell in his family’s house, and the wise men returned to the East.
And Miriam, the mother of Issa, and his brothers and sisters went at times to the river Jordan to listen to Yohanan preach and to be baptized by him.
With the hot sun bright in the sky, several small groups of people approached the river and its grassy banks. The woman, Miriam, and four of her adult sons and three adult daughters made up one group and they settled down on a patch of grass by the river bank. In the distance they could see Yohanan, the Baptist, standing in the shallows with a man he was baptizing. Yohanan was being assisted by two other men who stood with him in the water. As time went by, Yohanan clambered out of the water and stood on a rise of ground. His two helpers sat down nearby, gazing at him. Then Yohanan started shouting vehemently as he pointed at the crowd.
“Vipers! Serpents! Creeping things! You have the gall to come to me and beg me to pronounce you better people? You snakes! The stones on the ground have no darkness within their hearts like you do, so I pronounce them more blessed than you in the sight of God! Base your actions and thoughts on your shame, because that is proper repentance. Remember, trees which do not bear good fruit are cut down and cast into bonfires!”
He angrily pointed round the small crowd of onlookers.
“For our worth in this world is judged by our deeds, and by what is in our hearts and secret thoughts - not just because we worship God with all the right words!”
A man in the crowd shouted back at him. “What must we do, then?”
Yohanan shouted back immediately, spitting with his angry reply.
“Listen and think! He that has two coats, let him give one to him that has none. And he that has food, let him do likewise. Cheat nobody. Do violence to nobody. Lie about nobody. And be content with what God allows you to have. Do not be like Antipas, appointed by Teeberius Kaiser as King of Judea, who divorced his wife and married his own niece, as is forbidden by God. He thinks just because he claims descent from Abraham and avoids eating pork, that he is a good man. When did he ever forgive anybody? He even butchered his own children - but will God forgive him just because he doesn’t butcher any pigs for his table? I think not!”
There was a great hubbub amongst the crowd. A Levite – a temple assistant – standing with six other Levites, raised his arm and pointed accusingly at Yohanan, “Who are you? Who do you claim to be? By what authority or text do you preach? Are you claiming to be the Anointed One of the prophesies?”
Yohanan shook his head sadly and spoke with great patience. “I am not the anointed one.”
“What are you, then?” demanded the Levite. “Are you Eli-yahu the wonder-worker who has come back across the centuries from Ah-hab’s kingdom?” The other Levites laughed loudly and the laughter spread amongst some of the audience.
Wearily Yohanan replied again, as though addressing a simpleton. “I am not Eli-yahu.”
“Are you claiming to be a prophet?” demanded the Levite, his anger growing.
Still wearily, Yohanan replied: “I am not claiming to be a Prophet.”
“Then state who you are, so that we can report it back to the clerics who sent us to find out about you. What do you say for yourself?”
With sudden venom, Yohanan furiously shouted his answer. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness ‘Make yourselves fit for the way of the Lord thy God!’ just as the prophet Eli-yahu said! I am not the anointed one, but I prepare people’s hearts to receive enlightenment!”
The Levite nodded slowly with a smug “We’ll see about that” expression.
Later that day Issa was sitting in the mud-brick house at a plain table eating bread when there came the sound of people approaching. His family came through the door, all seemingly chattering at once. There was Miriam, Issa’a widowed mother, Yagov his older brother, Yusuf, Shimon and Yahuda his younger brothers, together with his three younger sisters Athaliah, Deenah and Peninnah. The girls were particularly vocal. Deenah spoke to Athalia.
“He certainly stood up to that Levite!”
“I don’t think that was wise,” stated Athalia. “It will be reported back to the clerics.”
“Do you think so?”
“I am certain of it. It is dangerous to preach without permission. The clerics do not like it.”
Yagov nodded his agreement. “The priesthood needs to ensure that all preachers are saying what is correct according to the authority of the Law of God and the Scriptures. They think a preacher in the wilderness who says what he pleases is like a weed in a field of grain.”
Yusuf pondered this briefly. “But surely the power of prophesy can descend upon anyone, even if they are not a lawful preacher?”
“Certainly,” agreed Yagov. “But there is a difference between a prophet and a preacher. A prophet is touched by God to reveal a message. A preacher just shouts his opinions at people, and they need to be correct opinions in the eyes of the temple lawyers.”
“That’s right,” nodded Shimon. “I could stand up and preach to a crowd, but that would not make me a prophet. Then again, I could receive a vision in a dream and make a prophesy, but that would not make me a preacher.”
Yusuf turned to look at the seated Issa. “Issa my long-lost brother – you have travelled to far-off lands in the east, to India and beyond. Are there preachers in India?”
“Wherever there are people there are preachers,” he stated laconically, as everyone settled down at the table.
Yusuf pondered this for a moment. “But are they inspected by the priesthood in India to ensure they are genuine preachers and not imposters or madmen?”
Issa replied equally laconically. “Wherever there are people, there are priests to inspect them.”
Yagov frowned. “You ask the wrong person about preachers and prophets. Our long-lost brother Issa was chased out of India by its rulers, for being a dangerous subversive. That is why he now returns to us to live off our charity.”
Miriam raised her voice with motherly authority. “And he is my son, just as you are, Yagov!”
Yagov stared meaningfully at his mother. “I am your eldest son, and therefore head of the household since father’s death. All these years I have worked hard for you and never disobeyed your orders. Surely I am more entitled than him to enjoy the fruits of our labour?”
Miriam rose to her feet and walked round the table to where Yagov sat. She put her arm round his shoulders. “My son, you were always with me, and all I have is yours. But we must be joyful, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again - he was lost and is now found! That does not mean I love any of you the less. It means I love all my children equally.”
“You are right,” admitted Yagov morosely. “I, too, rejoice in his return. Forgive me for my sour mood. It happens when you lose sight of the whole city because you can only see the room you stand in. Will you forgive me, Issa my brother?”
“Of course, Yagov. I vanished over the far horizon years ago, when I was just fourteen. It is your right place, now, to be the head of the household - under mother’s supervision, of course. I ask only board and lodging for a time, and perhaps also the memory that I am still family.”
Yagov stood and reached across the table to clasp Issa on his shoulder. Issa gripped Yagov’s arm in an affectionate gesture.
Their sister Penninah spoke excitedly to Issa. “That preacher we went to see is becoming popular. He says interesting things that make sense. Will you come with us next time we go to listen to him, and maybe get baptized by him in spiritual cleansing?”
Deenah nodded her agreement. “He reminds me a bit of you, Issa. He says the same kind of things you do. He says being a good person inside is more important, even if you wear rags, than looking respectable to other people.”
”Good for him!” stated Issa. “He is quite right. Would you rather drink from a cup that was clean on the outside but filthy on the inside, or one that was filthy on the outside but perfectly clean inside?”
Shimon laughed. “Another riddle, eh? You and Yohanan would get on well together. You both look at things in a different way to the rest of us. Why don’t you come with us next time?”
“I’ll think about it,” answered Issa. “Right now, I am not sure exactly what I intend to do with myself. I am still weighing things up.”
Some days later, Yohanan stood in shallow water near the river bank haranguing a crowd of some fifty people. Nearby, standing with him in the water, were his helpers Shimon Cephas and Andreas. Small groups of people were still approaching the river to hear Yohanan preach. Amongst the groups walking over the grass were Miriam, Yagov and all Yagov’s brothers and sisters with the exception of Issa.
Yohanan soon began to encourage members of his audience to come down into the water and be cleansed of their past mistakes and be reborn into better people, if they could but change their attitudes slightly. A man jumped into the water somewhat clumsily and was immersed. Yohanan held him under the water for a few moments, then the man stood up in the water, spluttering and smiling broadly. It was Yagov. Shimon Cephas and Andreas slapped him playfully on the shoulders, sharing his delight.
A day later Miriam’s family were enjoying supper together in the mudbrick house. Miriam and her daughters were serving food to the men, as was the custom in those days. Miriam walked to Issa carrying a platter of food and paused thoughtfully beside him.
“You know, you really should go and listen to Yohanan preaching at the ford in the river. He says some remarkable things - things that seem to reach inside me and make me see myself in a different way.”
Issa looked up into his mother’s face and grinned. “You speak so highly of him that I cannot say “no” any longer. I shall go with you next time and listen attentively, I promise.” Miriam stooped and kissed the top of Issa’s head.
“You will not regret it, little brother. I can promise you that,” stated Yagov through a mouthful of bread.
Their sister Penninah stared at Yagov as she passed out food from a basket. “Little brother? He stands as tall as you do Yagov!”
“Maybe. But I am older than him, and to me he will always be my little brother. And Issa - I am glad in my heart that you have returned to us. I apologize for any hard words I spoke when you suddenly appeared at our doorstep after so many years. I was startled.”
“As I would have been in your place, Yagov,” smiled Issa. “A family must share hard words as well as soft. I will be proud to accompany you to see this Yohanan.”
Two days later Miriam and her family came to the river where Yohanan preached and baptized. Some forty people were gathered there by midday, men, women and children, and all sat in small groups here and there on the grassy bank ready to listen to what Yohanan would say to them. Yohanan came and stood on a small grassy mound. What he said was probably not what they had expected to hear.
Loudly and with anger, Yohanan pointed at various groups. “You… and you… and you!” He paused, then; “You have been here before. You have been washed in the water of the Jordan right here at the river-crossing! I told you that you will be reborn from that moment! But it is not me who can do this for you! You want to be reborn as better people? I am not your mother! I am not your father! I did not give birth to you, yet you expect me to give birth to you again now? Do I look pregnant?” He struck a pose and strutted round with stomach stuck out in a preposterous manner. There was laughter from the crowd.
“Is this it?” demanded Yohanan loudly, still strutting with stomach pushed out. “Is this what you came all this way to see? A man who can give birth to new people like your mother did? Are you stupid or something? No man can do this for you!”
Suddenly he became more serious. He straightened and continued in a calmer voice. “But there is somebody here who can do this. Oh yes there is, I promise you. Someone has come here today who has the power to give birth to you again so that you will be reborn as a better person in the eyes of God, and in your own eyes.”
People began to look around at the others in the crowd.
“Don’t look round to see where they are!” barked Yohanan. “It is YOU! Each one of you! That’s who I’m talking about. It is YOU who have the power to make your old self die and bring forth a new self within you, reborn in innocence and unmarked by the corruptions of the world just as you were when you were first born, without the evils of the world within your hearts. Because your heart speaks to you, better than anything I can say. But you will only live in the way God wants you to if you listen to that voice within your heart, and do not let the voices of temptation shout louder within you so that you cannot hear the voice of God over the roaring of the world!
“Did you come here today seeking a miracle that will transform you into something better than you are? There is no miracle waiting for you here! You yourself brought your miracle here inside you. Your miracle has always been within you. But you have always looked elsewhere for it. You have been like someone standing in an orchard holding out your hand and waiting for God to drop an apple directly into it! This does not often happen! You must reach up as high as you are able, and grasp the apple by your own effort.
“You are all God’s crop! You must all be your own farmers too. You must bring forth within you that which is good, and kind, and helpful to others, and which is rightful in the eyes of God. You must be a good crop and you must burn your own chaff and weeds which grow in your own hearts.
“Be your own miracle - do not search elsewhere for it, for it will not be anywhere else! It waits inside every one of you, but you heed it not, and you allow it to wither. And the weeds grow in your hearts instead.”
Sitting amid his family group, Issa listened intently.
Now it was sunset. A small crowd still sat on the grassy bank beside the river watching Yohanan baptizing those who wished it. A man was raised out of the water by Shimon Cephas and Andreas and Yohanan uttered a few words to him which could not be heard by those on the bank.
“Next one!” called out Yohanan as the baptized man waded through the shallow water to the river bank.
Issa stood up and waded into the water. Shimon Cephas and Andreas held him gently but firmly and lowered him backwards into the water, with Andreas holding Issa’s nose closed. Immediately he was raised again, spluttering and wiping his eyes.
Yohanan spoke to him quietly the same words he gave to everyone he baptised. “Let the waters of this river wash away your previous failings so you are fit to stand before the face of God. You are now born again: you have a second chance. Live a new and more perfect life and let the corruptions of the world flee before the strength of your heart.”
Placing a hand on Issa’s shoulder, Yohanan smiled at him and nodded. Issa waded to the bank and was greeted with joy and congratulations by his family. Deenah his sister handed him a cloth to dry himself with. Yagov punched him playfully on the arm.
“Now, little brother, you are truly one of us - soaking wet, cold, reborn and happy. In all your travels, have you ever been so glad to be thrown into a river?”
Issa laughed good-naturedly. “I think it is what I needed. I think it has woken me up! Issa suddenly embraced Yagov. “Thank you, big brother, for making me come here.”
“Oh! So I forced you at spearpoint, did I?” laughed Yagov.
”We all forced him with the points of our tongues, which is even worse!” said Deenah. “You can dodge a spear!”
Issa smiled. “I wanted to see this Yohanan. I wanted to hear for myself what he was saying to everyone.”
“He has a good reputation, and it is spreading,” reflected Deenah.
”That worries me,” said Miriam quietly. “It may not be a good thing. He is beginning to come to the attention of the clerics. He speaks too freely when he preaches. He should not have insulted King Herod Antipas, especially in the hearing of a Levite...”
Her voice trailed off as she noticed Issa was no longer walking with them. He had stopped and was standing behind them.
“I will stay here for a time,” he said. I want to try to talk to Yohanan when the crowd has gone. I find him interesting. He stirs my heart.!”
Miriam gazed at him with worry in her face. “Be careful, my son. I have only just got you back after accepting that you must be dead in some foreign land - I don’t want to lose you again.” She walked to Issa and hugged him tightly. He hugged her too.
Buddhist chanting came faintly from a distant courtyard. Nicholas Notovitch and Brother Nacca Sutta sat motionless at the library table for a long moment as the end of the scroll was reached. Brother Nacca Sutta was silent and composed, but Notovitch bore an expression of deep passion. He had tears in his eyes. Slowly, hesitantly, he placed a hand on the monk’s forearm. “Please – read me some more.”
“I have overtaxed you, my brother. You are supposed to be convalescing. I would not have read you this if I had known the effect it would have on your emotions. I assumed you could not be upset by ancient history. Would you shed such tears if I read to you about Alexander Nevsky?”
“And yet he was your countryman and his tale is not even half as old as this one, which has made you weep.”
“It is not wrong to express one’s emotions.”
“Providing one is not disturbed by them.”
“I want to hear you read more of this.”
“I do not appear to be cheering you up!”
”Do not deceive yourself, my friend. Tears can signify joy as well as sorrow. I have joy in this.”
The monk sighed. “I will make a pact with you. If you return to your rest, tomorrow we will come here again. This scroll is finished anyway, and the account is resumed in the second of the five scrolls. I shall agree to read you one scroll each day, until the book is finished. What do you say to that?”
”What I always end up saying to you, my brother - you are very wise.”
Brother Nacca Sutta helped Notovitch to rise on his crutches and they slowly left the room.
Beyond the sturdy walls of the monastery a blizzard roared and howled. Inside, however, wooden shutters had been carefully closed in all the glassless windows and the huge wooden doors had been battened shut against the storm. In a stone passage with tapestries hanging on the walls, Brother Nacca Sutta helped Notovitch to hobble to the library on his crutches. Entering, they sat at the same table as the day before. With a slight hesitancy, Brother Nacca Sutta removed another rolled-up scroll from the box and unfurled its first several inches on the wooden reading-board.
“Are you sure you wish this?” he asked quietly.
“More sure than I have ever been about anything,” Notovitch smiled. “I promise I shall behave myself.”
Brother Nacca Sutta stared into the other man’s eyes. “My brother, I am not your keeper, I am merely your friend and advisor. Strong emotions play upon the body like a mule-train crossing a rope bridge, and you need to heal properly. I do not want you to remember me for the rest of your life as the man who let your leg heal crooked.”
Notovitch reached out and clasped Brother Nacca Sutta’s forearm on the tabletop, staring at him penetratingly. “Believe me, that is not how I shall remember you!”
Brother Nacca Sutta stared back for a moment, then nodded slightly. He lowered his gaze to study the scroll briefly and started to read from it.
“Then Issa remained by the Jordan at Beth-Ab’arra, which is, the place of the ford, and he stayed close by Yohanan and his helpers Andreas and Shim’on, moving amongst the crowd, talking, watching, listening...
“…And Issa spoke his heart to Yohanan and told him of the light which must be brought into the world of darkness, and that same light which had brought him in the company of wise men from the East to Nat’zeret, and thence to the Jordan crossing.”
On the riverbank the light was fading as the sun set and the night was beginning to fall. Only four people remained, everyone else having departed for their homes or lodgings. Yohanan, Issa, Andreas and Shim’on Cephas sat talking together around a small bonfire.
“Issa my new friend,” exclaimed Yohanan somewhat jovially. “Tell me what you think of this world of ours. What is your view?”
Issa spoke quietly and reflectively, choosing his words with great care. “In the beginning, humans were created equal to each other. But as shepherds keep flocks of animals, there were men who wished to keep flocks of people. And so there came kings and emperors, and harsh and unjust laws were made to prevent people from straying, as the shepherd builds pens in which to contain their animals.
”But people should not be treated like animals. We are all the same. At our birth, we all come into this world the same way. No newborn baby comes from the womb wearing a crown or tiara, or golden slippers. Yet the laws imposed by men makes believe that the child born to be an emperor is a more important baby than a child who is born to be a ploughman or a beggar.
“But which baby has more authority than other babies? Which baby will become the beggar and which baby will become the king? Are we not all equal at birth? It is only the vanity of human beings that makes the king a king, and the slave a slave, and the High Priest a High Priest!
”What we should be thinking is: I am the same as all other people, and all other people are the same as me. God does not appoint rank or wealth. He sends us all into the world as equals, and removes us all from the world as equals at death.”
Shimon Cephas nodded and grunted through his great beard. “It’s the bit in between that’s the bugger!”
The other three look sideways at him, then burst out laughing. Issa, still laughing, reached out and punched Shimon’s arm gently. ”You have a great gift for plain speaking, my friend.”
”That he does!” commented Andreas. “He calls a man a man, and a rock a rock. Nobody can fault his accuracy. He is my real brother, not just a brother in name, and he has been a blunt speaker since childhood. My name is Andreas, by the way, and my brother is Shim’on.”
Yohanan spoke quietly. “I have heard the words spoken by our new friend Master Issa, and I have weighed them in my heart.” He pointed at Issa across the fire. “This man is a beloved son of God, in whom He must be very pleased.”
Issa stared at Yohanan, mulling over what he had said.
Four days later Issa was walking in a rocky wilderness deeply immersed in thought. He muttered to himself as he mulled things through. He was, by turn, angry and reasonable, trying to reach a balanced conclusion to the contradictions he was feeling.
“I did not ask to feel the things I feel and think the things I think! If I work with Yagov and my brothers in trade, then I shall earn bread and meat for my stomach.” He marched onward. “And yet, it is written that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.”
After an hour of walking he came to a more pleasant landscape where scattered groups of people were tending to sheep and goats while others were collecting fruits from trees. Again came the arguments in his mind.
“If I deal normally with people in the manner in which it is expected that a man should live, and speak wisdom to them, and lead them, then I could rise to a high position and have power and glory in my full measure.”
He stopped walking and muttered angrily to himself: “I must put such thoughts behind me! They are the enemy of my true path. Such thoughts serve only me! It is written ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve!’”
By sunset he had reached the top of a rocky hill with a precipice. Standing at the edge of the cliff top he raged angrily, waving his fists accusingly at the sky.”
”I am not good enough! I do not have the strength! I do not have the wisdom! I have failed before! It would be better for me to cast myself over this edge and avoid setting myself this task. I cannot carry it out properly!”
Then he calmed down again. “But it is written; ‘Cast out all thine enemies, because the Lord thy God hath spoken.’ Selfishness, fear, doubt and pride are my enemies.”
He shouted from the cliff top in a loud voice which echoed. “Be gone, Temptation!”
The following day, at dusk, he sought out his new friends at their accustomed place by the river, but the ford and nearby bank was unusually deserted. Issa peered into nearby patches of bushes to no avail, and the ashes of the small fire were cold. Mystified, he began to walk away from the river bank. Soon he was walking through a patch of bushes when Shim’on Cephas and Andreas came out of cover where they had been waiting. Andreas seized Issa by the arm. His face was a mask of sorrow.
“Issa! Issa! We hoped you would return to this place. We have been watching for you for two days. Something terrible has happened.”
Issa was startled. He looked at both of them. “My friends, what is it? What has happened?”
“Yohanan has been beaten-up and taken away by a gang of that bastard Antipas’ men!” exclaimed Andreas.
Issa was shocked. “Beaten? Taken? Where is he now? How did it happen?”
“The clerics in Jerusalem sent word to Herod that Yohanan was encouraging crowds to defy the Temple and the priesthood. They also said that he claimed to be able to wash away sin, and that this was being done in the wilderness, not in the Temple where it should be done by a proper priest.”
Shimon Cephas interrupted angrily. “ We could do nothing. There were twenty or thirty of them. Some were men from Herod’s bodyguard - proper armed soldiers. The crowd jeered, and we joined in, but they beat him with cudgels and with their fists and carried him off.” He rolled down his jerkin exposing his well-muscled right shoulder and breast; they were a mass of vivid bruising. “This is what they did to me when I tried to argue with them.”
“And some of them set about breaking up the crowd and beating-up anyone who resisted them,” added Andreas. “Most of the people fled in panic. It all happened so quickly - within a few minutes the two of us were alone here.”
Issa weighed up what had been said. “This is dreadful news, but there is nothing that can be done. Three of us cannot lay siege to Herod’s palace.”
Shimon Cephas raised his clenched fist and grunted savagely. “We could raise a multitude and rescue Yohanan!”
Andreas took hold of the raised fist and gently but firmly lowered it, speaking calmly to his brother. “That is stupid. All that would happen if we tried that is that many would be arrested and many killed. The sheep cannot attack the wolves.”
“So we do nothing?” spat Shimon Cephas in anger.
.”There is nothing we can do,” stated Issa. “I was once in the same position in India. I spoke out in public against their caste system, in which people are oppressed by their iron customs. I preached equality for all, and I was beaten and threatened with death. I had to flee for my life. That is why I returned here.”
“So you have tasted defeat before, and fled from it!” spat Shimon Cephas contemptuously.
Issa rounded on him furiously. “And who appointed you to be my judge?”
Shimon Cephas lowered his eyes, then his head. Issa stared angrily at him, then turned abruptly and walked away.
After some twenty paces, he turned his head briefly. Shimon Cephas and Andreas were following. He walked faster. After another fifty paces he stopped and turned. The two men were still following. He looked directly at them. “What is it that you are looking for?”
Somewhat contritely, Shimon Cephas muttered; “Teacher – where do you live?”
Issa suddenly unwound his temper. He laughed and extended his arms to them. “Why not come and see?”
In Issa’s mother’s house Shimon Cephas and Andreas were welcomed as honoured guests. They related their story again for all of them to hear. Miriam and Issa’s sisters fetched food and water to the table and all were joining in the conversation, shocked by what their guests had to tell.
When there was a brief silence in the talking, Andreas reached out and grasped Issa’s arm in a friendly manner. “Teacher, will you come with us tomorrow? It is the Sabbath and we shall go to the synagogue in Nat’zeret.”
“I will go with you tomorrow,” nodded Issa with his mouth full.
The synagogue at Nat’zeret was a simple stone building standing on a rise of ground. A robed hazzan – a cleric – appeared on the roof. He raised a ram’s horn and blew on it deeply three times.
There were some thirty men sitting or kneeling on the floor and at the rear were some women. Issa, Shim’on Cephas and Andreas found space together and knelt. The priest of the synagogue stared at them meaningfully, then unexpectedly pointed at Issa. “One of our own has returned into our midst after an absence of fourteen years. We thought him dead in some far country, never to be seen again. We will honour his safe return by asking him to read the weekly portion from the Holy Scriptures.” The priest walked through the kneeling and sitting crowd and handed Issa a scroll. Issa stood up, bowed to the priest and started to unfurl the scroll. The priest looked around at the people, stating; “It is the book of the prophet Isaiah.”
As the priest waited patiently Issa was still unfurling more and more of the scroll until he came to a specific place he had been looking for. He raised his voice to be heard by all.
“The Spirit of God is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach his law to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach freedom to the captive, the recovery of the light to they who dwell in darkness; to set free those who are abused; to preach the nine and forty years of atonement of the Lord.” Then Issa rolled up the scroll and handed it back to the astonished priest. Everyone stared at Issa in surprised silence.
Issa continued in a loud voice. “The world of man is in darkness. But in that darkness light shines. But those who cannot open their eyes remain in darkness, and the darkness cannot understand the light.
“Where do you look for your understanding of God? I will tell you! You look in dusty scriptures. You ask priests to reveal it to you. You search for prophets who can tell you. You ask everyone except yourself!
“All of you are blind! Yet you who stumble in the darkness might see the light of God which is greater than the sun, but you look for it in all the wrong places. If you look for God in all those places, you will never find him. Look into your own heart! That is where you will discover what God is trying to say to you. Do not look outward away from yourself to understand God. Look inward, inside yourself - that is where God lives and where you will hear his voice like a whisper louder than thunder, if you are only prepared to acknowledge its presence.
“The voice of God is not like a temple trumpet. It is not like the roaring of the multitude in the marketplace. Yet the voice of God is always with you. The voice of God is like a small breeze tapping you on the shoulder, trying vainly to attract your attention, for you do not heed it!
“The voice of God is continually whispering to you ‘I am here inside you, why can you not hear me?’ Have any of you tried to look for the light of God inside your own heart? No? Then you are all blind, and you must be enabled to see!” Issa quickly rolled up the scroll and handed it back to the astonished priest. Everyone was staring at Issa in a dumfounded silence. Then came a quiet buzz of incredulous and offended voices.
“Surely that is old Yosuph’s son who went wandering and returned?”
“Who does he think he is?”
“The upstart comes back after all these years and tries to tell us where to look for God?”
“His mother is Miriam. She lives on the Teeberias Road. His brothers and sisters live there too. They seemed an ordinary decent family.”
“Who is he to tell us where to find God?”
Issa raised his voice to speak over them. “Why don’t you just use your heads - if you cannot see truth because it is given to you in your own town, then who in all the world can become wise? And you will remain blind to enlightenment, saying; “This cannot be true light, for it shines from our very midst, from one of us, and how can that be?” If you cannot see the light on your own doorstep, how can you expect to see it in other places? The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness cannot understand it!”
At this, pandemonium broke out inside the synagogue. Men rose angrily to their feet shouting and waving fists. Quickly they seized Issa and hauled him outside with cries of “Blasphemer!” “Traitor!” “Defiler!” and other harsh shouts.
On one side of the path leading to the synagogue door there was a steep downward slope. The mob hauled Issa towards the edge. There were angry shouts of “Throw him over!” and “Cast him down the slope!”
However, Shimon Cephas and Andreas had now run out of the synagogue, barging through the crowd without heed. They hauled people out of their way, pushing some over, hitting others. Shimon Cephas punched a particularly aggressive man and knocked him out. The crowd hesitated and pulled back a few paces. A few of the men had bloody noses.
Andreas and Shimon Cephas blocked the crowd from following as Issa walked away. Shimon Cephas raised a big fist at the crowd and snarled at them. A man in the crowd shouted out: “Leave us alone - go away! We want nothing to do with you, Issa son of Miriam!”
Another angry man joined in. “Begone, Issa of Nat’zeret! Take your strange ideas with you. Leave us alone!”
The first angry man shouted again. “You dare come here to preach against the word of God? Are you trying to destroy us?”
Suddenly, Issa turned angrily to face the mob. He pointed at them with a shaking finger and shouted loudly. “Hold your tongues! The spirit of your evil comes out of your mouths in an unclean wind!” Andreas and Shim’on Cephas quickly hustled Issa down the road. They disappeared among buildings. The mob re-entered the synagogue. Half a dozen people remained, looking down the sloping road. One man spoke half to himself in a reflective manner.
“What new doctrine is this we have heard today? This needs thinking about.”
Another agreed. “What he said made sense to me. He said our mouths shouted with a spirit of unclean wind. He has commanded our unclean spirit to depart, and I shall obey him.”
“And I,” said another.
A fourth man pondered thoughtfully. “I can understand what he says. The light of God is within each of us. It cannot be found outside - we must look within ourselves for it, not elsewhere, in ancient scriptures, temples, relics...”
The first man spoke again. “He has shown us the darkness that blinds us to the truth. I have been blind. Now I can begin to see properly.”
“So can I,” muttered another.
Among the handful that had remained outside, there was a general murmur of agreement.
And from this beginning, word began to spread abroad of how Issa had shown men the blindness of their own eyes, and of how he had commanded the unclean spirit of their intolerance to depart from them. And for that night, Issa brought Andreas and Shimon Cephas to his family’s home again, where they ate with Miriam his mother, and his brothers and sisters, and there they rested for a night and a day.
Then Andreas and Shimon Cephas brought Issa to their home near Bethsaida by the Sea of Galilee. They were fishermen by trade and partners in their business. As their work paid off over the years, they had expanded, and at that time they owned many boats and employed other men to catch fish for them.
As they approached the boats they saw two men sitting on the sand nearby mending a fishing net. One of them looked up and waved.
“This is our home, Teacher,” remarked Shimon Cephas. “We own a small fishing fleet, and we do well out of it. This gave us the time to spend in trying to improve our souls by helping Yohanan and learning from him. Come and meet our cousins.”
The men mending nets stopped work and greeted the newcomers. Shimon Cephas introduced them. “This is my cousin, another Yagov, and his brother, another Yohanan, sons of my uncle Zephad-yah. Lads, this man is our new Teacher, Issa.”
Cousin Yohanan stood up looking serious. “Issa? From Nat’zeret? Oh-ho! Him, we have already heard about!”
Cousin Yagov explained. “Bin-yamin and his sons came to buy dried fish for their market shop last night. Bin-yamin was in the synagogue for the Sabbath. He told us everything that happened.” Then he stood up, grasped Issa firmly by the shoulders and gave him a friendly squeeze. “Anybody who can put the fear of God up the people of Nat’zeret is a friend of mine. He is welcome here.”
“That goes for me too,” said Cousin Yohanan, who also hugged Issa warmly
Cousin Yagov frowned. “I’m afraid such approval does not go for everybody though.”
Shimon Cephas raised his chin aggressively, and also a meaty fist. “And who dares to question my choice of friend and teacher?” he snarled.
“Ariella, your wife’s mother,” replied Cousin Yohanan simply. Shimon Cephas visibly deflated. He drooped his broad shoulders, lowered his fists and sighed deeply with resignation.
Andreas looked at Issa with a sly grin and cocked a thumb at Shimon Cephas. “Mother-in-law problems!”
Issa also grinned and slapped Shimon Cephas on the back. “Come on,” he encouraged. “She can’t be that bad!”
“You haven’t met her,” muttered Shimon Cephas miserably.
There was a sudden shout from the house. A handsome woman waved at the group and hurried towards them. She stopped and panted, a little out of breath. Shimon Cephas made the introductions. “This is my wife, Berenike. Berry, this man is my friend Issa.”
Berenike was flustered. “I know who he is. Everyone knows who he is. That’s the trouble. He is the man who got you all thrown out of the synagogue!”
Issa smiled disarmingly at her. “Berenike - that’s Greek, isn’t it? It means ‘Bringer of Victory’”?
“Yes, it is, and yes it does,” said Berenike, still flustered. “Please, you must forgive me. I have no wish to appear rude or unwelcoming. As far as I am concerned, you are very welcome here as an honoured guest, as is the custom. But my mother has commanded that our house should not be brought into disrepute by someone who started a riot in the synagogue. She fears for the opinions of our neighbours, and for our position in society.”
She turned to face her husband. “She instructs me to tell you that she lies ill in bed with a bad headache and she will not allow visitors. She has ordered that no food or drink be given to you until your friend has gone away.”
Shimon Cephas turned to Issa and shrugged awkwardly. “I’m sorry. We must find somewhere else to stay. I can hit a man, but I can’t hit my mother-in-law - she would kill me!”
Issa looked at Berenike. “Will you at least allow me to knock at her bedroom door so that she and I may hear each other speak? If she then orders me away, I shall depart immediately, I promise.” He smiled. “After all, you can see that I am not a bandit, nor a rowdy fighter like your big husband. Nor am I a blasphemer or a leper.”
“All right,” agreed Berenike reluctantly. “But on your own head be it!” She pointed meaningfully at her husband. “And on yours!” She turned and led the way into the house.
A few minutes later Issa stood at an upstairs wooden door, at the top of a flight of wooden stairs. All the others were huddled cautiously below the top landing, peering up at Issa and the door. Issa glanced at them sympathetically, and then quietly knocked on the wooden door.
“May I come in Ariella? I need your advice, and I am told you are the wisest person within many miles. I have a problem and I don’t really know what to do about it.”
Ariella’s voice sounded suspiciously through the closed door. “Who are you?”
“I am Issa, son of Miriam.”
“I gave orders that you were not to be admitted into this house! You got my son-in-law into trouble with the synagogue!”
”And yet, the synagogue still stands, intact and unharmed, and not one stone of it has been changed. Only some people have been changed. Was that a bad thing, do you think?”
There was a pause. Then Ariella’s voice again came through the closed door, more quietly than before.
“You may come in.”
Issa opened the door and stepped into the room. There was a rough-hewn wooden bed surrounded by a curtain of colorful drapes. He gently parted the hangings with his fingertips and saw Ariella, a woman of about fifty, sitting up in bed fully clothed. She appeared completely healthy. She looked levelly at Issa.
“You say you seek my advice,” she stated, her face hard, her expression uncompromising. “What advice do you seek?”
“I seek the answer to a great riddle. If a whole Roman legion says that the true gods are Jupiter, Apollo, Venus and the rest, and one single Judean serving with them speaks alone and says there is only one true God, does this mean the legion is right and the Judean is wrong, because many believe something and only one man believes something else?
“And if the hands of many are raised in anger at a few, does this mean that the many must be right and the few must be wrong? And who is the most righteous - the person who says: “A great multitude believes they know the truth, therefore this is the truth I must believe in!” or the person who says: “The multitude are wrong and I shall believe what my conscience holds to be true”?
He held out an open hand towards her. “Can you answer these riddles for me, Ariella?”
Slowly, hesitantly, Ariella took Issa’s hand and got up from her shelter. Holding his hand high, they left the bedroom and began to walk down the rough wooden stairs. Her family retreated backwards in astonished awe. At the foot of the stairs Shim’on Cephas pressed his back hard against the wall and stood on tiptoe in fear to make space as Ariella passed. She stopped and looked at him with a hard expression. Suddenly she hugged him tight and rested her head on his chest. Awkwardly, Shim’on Cephas put his great arms round her and kissed her gently on the top of her head. Then Ariella marched into the main room of the house and clapped her hands loudly.
”Where is food and drink for our guest? Come on everyone! Wake your ideas up! Move your lazy backsides! What must he think of us?”
In an instant everyone started to bustle about in some panic.
An hour or so later everyone was feeling well-fed and all were chatting together, even Ariella. Only Andreas was missing. Then he came back into the house. He approached his brother uncertainly. “You’d better come and take a look at this.” Shimon looked at him quizzically, then stood and followed Andreas to the front door. The two men left the stone-built house.
Outside, a group of some twenty men and women stood silent. Four other people were walking towards the group and joined it, equally silent. A few hundred yards away another six men and women headed in the same direction.
”At least half of that lot are the same people who threw us out of the synagogue,” whispered Andreas in alarm.
Shimon nodded. “I can see two whose noses I bloodied.”
“Do you think they’re here to cause trouble?”
Shimon flexed his shoulders and arms. “I’m ready for them!”
Andreas grasped his arm. “We can’t have a fight on our doorstep. That would be an unthinkable scandal.”
“You stay here,” said his big brother. “I’ll go and speak to them.” He removed his brother’s hand from his arm and began to walk purposefully towards the gathering crowd.
“Please don’t upset them!” hissed Andreas urgently.
Shimon came before the crowd and stopped. “What is it you want?” he snapped. “Why do you gather here like this?”
A man took a cautious step forward. “We mean no harm. We have come because the Teacher was seen here, and we were told of it.”
A young woman at the front of the crowd called out. “We have heard about him, and we were just waiting to see if he was going to come out and speak, that’s all.”
Then another man stepped forward. “You hit me on the nose at the synagogue, Shim’on - and I probably deserved it. I just needed time to think about what the Teacher said, that’s all. I bear you no grudge. I want to hear more, and listen more carefully this time.” There was a ragged murmur of general agreement from the crowd.
Shimon Cephas was utterly astonished and remained speechless for several long moments. Then his voice came back to him. “Just wait there a moment. I will go and see if he will come out and talk to you.”
He hurried inside. Andreas stood watching the crowd in some wonder. Then Issa appeared in the doorway, Shim’on Cephas behind him. The murmuring crowd fell silent. Issa gazed at them, then slowly smiled. He walked forward, edging through the standing people until he was at the centre of the small crowd. Shim’on Cephas and Andreas remained at the edge of the people, looking somewhat worried.
”You must all have walked a long way to get here,” remarked Issa. “I only had to walk from that house. Why don’t all of you sit down?”
Everyone sat down in a great ring around Issa, who also sat down on the ground. He looked round at them penetratingly for a few moments.
”I see most of you are here who threw me out of the synagogue! Don’t worry. You only did what you thought was right. You saw an upstart who told you that you did not understand the light of God, when you were gathered to worship and proclaim that very thing. No wonder you were angry.
“But think of this. A man who had to labour during the darkness of the night went into a shed to sleep. When the dawn broke, the sunlight hurt his eyes, so he cursed and slammed the shutters so that he might remain in the comfort of the darkness. And if a passer by, seeing this, should open the door of the shed and call out that the man should wake up and see the daylight, the man in the darkness will curse him and slam the door in his face.
“But later, that man will go out into the daylight and find the man who disturbed him, and say to him: ‘I’m sorry, my friend, for I was sleeping in the dark when you came, and I thought the daylight hurt my eyes and spoiled my pleasant dreaming. But I now understand that it is wrong to remain in the darkness when the sun has arisen. Thank you for awakening me.’
“The light of God shines within all people - but it can only be seen if you take
down the shutters which keep your minds in darkness. That darkness is made by unclean thoughts.
“Do you think you are clean people? Let me ask you - when did you ever wash your thoughts? When was the last time you swept out the storerooms of your desires? When did you last cleanse your hearts, so that the enlightenment of God might shine inside you?
“There are unclean spirits within all of us, and if you want to cast them out, you need to simply take down the shutters in your mind so that light can enter your hearts. That’s all. Be aware of your temptations and of the power of wicked thoughts, for these things dwell and breed like maggots within the darkness that is inside us. Cast them out! Cast them out! Let your unclean spirits depart!”
The people listened with rapt attention, especially the young woman who had spoken out earlier.
Night had fallen and the crowd had departed. Sitting in a small group outside, Issa, Shimon, Andreas, Cousin Yagov, Cousin Yohanan, Berenike and Ariella shared a picnic of food and wine under the bright stars. They sat around a small flickering fire.
Through a mouthful of food, Shimon muttered; “The crowd liked you after all. I am relieved. I feared that I would have to punch some more noses!”
Issa laughed merrily, reached over and slapped him on the back. ”You are an honest, straightforward man with no pretensions, and you are never afraid to speak your mind. You are Shim’on the son of Yonas - but I think your other name suits you better - Cephas, the Rock, because your feet are always firmly on solid ground and you are immovable.”
There was a round of laughter. As the laughter ended, a figure walked hesitantly into the circle of firelight. It was the young woman who had been in the front of the crowd. Ariella waved to her to encourage her approach. “Come and join us.” The young woman hesitantly sat down beside Ariella.
“This is my cousin’s daughter,” she explained to Issa. “They live in Migdal. Her name is Miriam.”
Issa smiled at her. “You are welcome. My mother’s name is also Miriam.”
In the monastery reading-room Nicholas Notovitch had an expression of wonder on his face. His eyes were shining with tears. Brother Nacca Sutta carefully rolled up the scroll and placed it in the wooden container. He spoke quietly.
”It is time to stop for today. I still fear that I am taxing your emotions when you should be concerning yourself with recovering from your injury. But there are three scrolls remaining, and if you wish, I will read another one for you tomorrow - providing I judge that you are well enough!”
Notovitch reached out and gripped Brother Nacca Sutta’s hand. “My dear friend, my brother - I do not think I have ever felt so well in all my life as I feel now! But again I bow to your gentle wisdom, and I shall wait until tomorrow, as long as you do not mind spending time with me and reading.”
Brother Nacca Sutta smiled. “Time is the only thing I have plenty of, my friend. It gives me pleasure to spend it with you.” He rose from his bench and helped Notovitch rise and put his crutches in place. Then he helped Notovitch hobble from the room. A furious blizzard howled and stormed outside the ancient building. The shrieking of the wind was ferocious and in the stone passages the cold bit hard into hands and feet, even faces.
The heat was almost unbearable, but nevertheless some one hundred people sat on rising sandy hillocks. The attentions of all of them were riveted upon Issa, who stood on the shoreline, his back to the water of the Sea of Galilee. From that time, Issa began to teach the people in their crowds, and to say; “Change yourselves within, and you will find inside you the true light of God.” And they were astonished at his doctrine, for he spoke with authority, and the people could understand his message to them.
Shimon Cephas headed into a local village. Arriving at a certain house, he thumped loudly on the door with both fists and at once let himself in. The main room was stacked with boxes, bolts of cloth, bronze and brass plates and other items. Two men were unrolling a bolt of cloth and they froze as Shimon entered. A. third man was seated at a table writing on parchments with a nibbed pen. He glanced up at the intruder.
“Relax brothers,” he said quietly. “I know it looks like a huge and dangerous robber of the desert come to raid our warehouse, but it’s only my friend Shim’on.
Shimon Cephas responded. “Watch this merchant carefully, you two. He’ll pay you one coin a day for working for him, then charge you two coins a day for doing your wages accounts!”
Shimon and the merchant glared at each other, then both laughed and rushed into each other’s arms. Each of them attempted to lift the other off the ground like wrestlers, and each failed to do so. They fell apart laughing and slapping their knees. As they straightened up, Shimon Cephas stopped laughing and became serious.
“Philippos, I bring you some interesting news. We have found a new Teacher while Yohanan is in prison. You need to listen to him. You will be glad you did.”
Philippos grew suddenly sober. He stared eagerly at Shimon. “Is he any good?”
Shimon nodded. “Oh, he’s good all right!”
As the sun beat down, six sweating men were moving huge blocks of rough stone. Several others wearing leather aprons were noisily using mauls and chisels on other blocks. Two other men were carving stone blocks artistically. A supervisor was using a wooden rod painted with divisions to measure the work. The stonemasons yard was thick with stone powder floating in the air. A figure approached indistinctly until it was close enough to be recognized as Philippos. “Netan’el, I must speak to you.” The foreman watched him approach.
Netan’el bar-Talmai recognized his visitor. “Philippos! What brings you here? Good to see you.”
Philippos put a hand on Netan’el’s shoulder, “Suppose I were to tell you that we have found a great Teacher, seemingly as great and as wise as Mosheh and the prophets, and that he is Issa, from Nat’zeret? What would you say to that?”
Netan’el spat. “Nat’zeret? Can anything good come out of that shit-hole?”
“Why don’t you come and see for yourself?”
Netan’el Bar-Talmai stared at Philippos curiously.
It was ten weeks later. In the middle-distance seven figures walked, dark against the sunrise, along the tideless shore of the great inland Sea of Gallilee. They were Shimon Cephas, Andreas, Cousin Yagov, Cousin Yohannan, Philippos, Miriam of Migdal and Netan’el Bar-Talmai. They all looked very anxious. They had spread out to examine various rocky hollows and sand dunes. It was Andreas who shouted.
“Here he is!”
In a hollow, Issa sat in meditation, eyes shut, face calm. The others came and stood, looking but not making any sound. Issa did not move or open his eyes.
Shimon Cephas squatted down facing Issa. “Are you awake, Teacher?” he whispered.
“Yes, I am awake,” answered Issa quietly and calmly.
“We have been searching for you. A few people have already started to arrive in front of the house to hear you speak today, as early in the day as this.”
Issa opened his eyes, looked at Shimon Cephas and smiled at him. “If the crowd gathers again today, I shall come and speak to them. But I will tell them that I am leaving tomorrow.”
“Leaving? I don’t understand. Where? Why?”
Issa looked at each of his followers in turn. “Don’t worry, my good friends - you can all come with me, if you want to.”
“Just try and stop us! But what is this all about? Are you not happy here?”
”I am happy here. But I must go and teach in other places as well. We must go to other towns so that I can explain the light of God there, too. That is what I need to do.”
”But other towns and other people do not know you. Here, you are known. Here, you have great honour. In the synagogue and afterwards you have won-over many who originally wanted to condemn you. You have gained a reputation here as a Teacher, and the people gather here each day to listen to you - why go elsewhere to start all over again?
Issa explained. “Just suppose we had all been invited to a wedding, and at the wedding feast the guests were told there was only one pot of good strong wine, and a dozen pots of water. Suppose the guests were told that there was enough wine to be served to the first few people at the table, but all the rest would have to make do with water.
“But if we poured the wine out equally into the pots of water, then everybody could have a taste of the wine, not just the first few. Likewise, the teaching of the light of God must be spread amongst many towns, and must not be strong in just one place.
In the growing daylight, Shim’on Cephas nodded slowly.
And then Issa went about all Galilee, teaching in synagogues, in market squares, in the countryside and by rivers, explaining to everyone how they should search anew for the light of God within themselves, and not just in the stones of holy buildings and the dry scrolls of ancient prophets. He healed the darkness of the minds of many who listened to him. And we went with him, and helped, and we, too, learned.
And those who had heard him speak brought to him all who were suffering in heart and spirit and yearned to be inspired, so they might learn how to find their inner light with their own eyes, as though they had been blind before.
And as the months passed, increasing multitudes gathered to listen to him, from Galilee, from the Ten Cities of Judea and Syria - from Jerusalem itself.
Thus it was that huge crowds gathered by the inland Sea of Galilee near to Shimon Cephas’ house. More large groups could be seen approaching from various directions in the middle-distance. Issa and his seven helpers stood on a rise near to the water’s edge. Nearby, two of Shimon’s large fishing boats had been drawn up for safety onto the gritty shoreland, their masts lowered to the bilges.
“There won’t be room for all to hear you,” muttered Andreas, not taking his eyes from the throngs of arriving people.
Issa nodded slowly. “I was thinking the same thing. I have an idea.” He walked a few yards to where Shim’on Cephas was also standing watching the crowd in some awe at its size.
“My rock, I need your great strength.” Issa led the way to the beached boats and stepped into one. “Are you able to push the boat into the water?”
”Why?” answered Shimon, puzzled. “These boats are bloody heavy things - and surely this is no time to go boating!”
Issa glanced at him. “Push the boat out, and you might learn something.”
Still Shimon grumbled. “We employ other fishermen to do such work for us nowadays. Andreas and I no longer labour!”
“Will you do it just for me?”
“All right,” muttered Shimon reluctantly. “Sit down.”
He started pushing the boat, a tremendous feat for one man. Seeing his efforts, the other helpers quickly came to assist him and the big boat was floated out on a length of rope until it was about thirty arm lengths from the shoreline.
Issa, seated in the boat, called out: “Let the crowd mass along the shore so they can all hear me. All of you, push out the other boat and join me on the water.”
The crowd edged along the shoreline. Shim’on Cephas, Andreas, Cousin Yohanan and Cousin Yagov launched second heavy boat and jumped in, splashing in the deepening water. Philippos, Miriam and Bar-Talmai remaied on shore in front of the crowd. The second boat stopped some twenty feet from Issa’s boat. Issa stood up. The crowd quickly fell silent. He pointed at the people and raised his voice to a shout.
”You have all come here today expecting to see a great wonder - a man who can explain God to you! I cannot explain God, to you or to anyone. God is beyond any explanation. Can we explain the stars? All we can do is make up stories about them, which suit us.
“We say: those stars make the shape of a great hunter. Those stars make the shape of a bear. Those other stars make the shape of a lion.
“But the stars are not hunters, or bears, or lions. They are beyond our knowledge. We simply find it convenient to say that they look like these things, so that if one man says “I saw the hunter in the sky last night”, another man will know what he is talking about and reply “I saw the bear.”
“This is like trying to explain God. It is within the hearts of people that the darkness of lust, of avarice, of jealousy, of rage and violence comes. And likewise, it is in the heart where comes the true light of God! For the doorway to the light of God is within you, not outside you. Not even in the temple or the synagogue. God does not live there. God does not have a bedroom in the temple. God does not have a wardrobe of fine clothes there for His use. The temple is called the House of God, but it is no such thing!
”It is really the House of the people who are still seeking God and have not managed to find him. You cannot find God there. You are looking in all the wrong places. The temple is built of stone, just as the fort, the prison and the inn are built. So, what then is the difference between the House of God and those other places? Surely, there are palaces as rich as the temple, and forts which are even greater in size?
”It is only within our hearts where the buildings of men take on their true measure. Do not look to the buildings of the temple to find the Light of God. Unless you bring that light with you, it will not be there!
”Visit your own heart instead, and fling open its shutters to admit the light. Enter into the light of God through the door inside yourself, not through the door of the temple. For the wrongdoer within the temple is still a wrongdoer, and upon them their own darkness still lies. But the wrongdoer who opens their heart to the light, wherever they may be, they have found the light of God within themselves.
Issa pointed at his helpers in the other boat and called out.
”Hold your nets up so that everyone can see them.”
Looking mystified, the men in the other boat do as instructed. They carefully held up a long net in folds between them.
“I have told these fishermen to get out their nets, which is their everyday work. And when I asked them to do this, they said; ‘Teacher, because you have asked us, we will lift up our nets.’”
”And now that they have done this, it is as though they have enclosed a great multitude of fishes, so many that their nets rip and they have to call upon their fellows in other boats to come and help them, so that the boats are weighed down with the catch.
“But it is not fish my followers have caught in their nets. From now on, these fishermen will catch the hearts of people in their nets, people just like you, and like a great shoal of fishes the multitudes will be brought up by their efforts into the light of God from the darkness that is beneath. And from now on, this is their true labour. Though their nets should rip and their ships should sink, even so shall the people be raised up into the light of God by the toil of those who labour with me.”
In his boat, Shim’on Cephas froze in astonishment, his mouth open. He slowly lowered the net, staring wide-eyed at Issa. He spoke in a shaking voice heavy with emotion.
”But teacher, I too am still in darkness. I cannot teach other people! I am nothing but a clumsy great roughneck who is good with his fists and the strength of his arm!”
Issa grinned affectionately at him across the water. “Don’t worry. Just think of it as catching people in your nets instead of fish.”
A day later Notovitch and Brother Nacca Sutta entered the library and sat at the same table, Notovitch still on crutches. His face bore an eager expression. Brother Nacca Sutta was calm and inscrutable. He stared at Notovitch. “My friend, you seem to be in much better spirits today. In fact, you are almost cheerful.”
Notovitch laughed good naturedly. ” Thank you very much! And you, my brother, are almost morose.”
“Then between us we represent one whole sensible person.” Brother Nacca Sutta stared at Notovitch with a dead-pan expression. Then, slowly, a faint smile appeared on his features, growing into a broad and infectious grin. Notovitch grinned back at him.
“I must admit, it is very pleasing to me to see you in a happier mood,” remarked Brother Nacca Sutta. “One might almost think that you were looking forward to hearing the next scroll.”
“I am,” agreed Notovitch. “Until this morning, I was baffled, worried and I felt strangely guilty about what I was hearing, because it is different from everything I have heard in churches and read in books – even the Bible!”
Brother Nacca Sutta cocked an eyebrow at him. “And now…?”
“Now I am beginning to wonder if this account might represent the original text on which the Gospels in the Bible were based. Now I accept that it may be a more realistic and historical account than the enforced dogma.”
“Dogma is the fossilization of belief,” stated Brother Nacca Sutta.
“I agree with you there. Immanuel Kant said: ‘The death of dogma is the birth of morality.”
Brother Nacca Sutta reflected; “Someone else said: ‘The Bible is not my book and Christianity is not my religion. I could never give assent to the long complicated statements of Christian dogma!’”
“That puts it very well,” agreed Notovitch. “Who said it?”
“Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of the United States of America,” replied Brother Nacca Sutta. He took the next scroll from the box and unfurled its beginning, starting to read aloud.
“After this, Issa went to Kaphar-naum with his mother Miriam, his brothers and sisters, Mirium of Migdal and us, his seven helpers. We stopped there for a few days, staying with Miriam’s father and mother, before we went on to Jerusalem for the Passover observances the following week. While we were in Kaphar-naum, there was an incident...”
It was a souk – a large, noisy and crowded market place. Issa’s group made their way slowly through the teeming, noisy bazaar, looking at everything, trying not to loose each other. They passed a tax-collector’s station, a sturdy table at which sat a neat, clean, expensively-dressed little man. On his table were scrolls, wax tablets, pens and an ink bottle. Round his shoulder there hung a large leather coin-pouch. He busily counted a handful of coins. Two bored-looking Roman legionaries stood guard behind him as minders. Just as Issa walked past with his family and friends, the tax-collector finished counting his handful of coins. He jumped up, pointed into the crowd and shouted out loudly.
“OI! OI YOU!”
Everybody within earshot looked round, including Issa and all who were with him.
Exasperated, the tax-collector shouted out: “No! No! YOU! What’s your name? Hevel! Hevel the silversmith. Come back here this minute! You’ve paid me the wrong amount of money!” A man in the crowd walked reluctantly back to the tax-collector’s table. Everyone else carried on with what they were doing. Issa and his group resumed walking away. The voice of the tax-collector could still be heard.
“Good thing you heeded me, Hevel. You should have paid eight denarii as your due. Look - you have given me too much. You have given me ten denarii. Take two back.”
Several yards away, Issa suddenly stopped in his tracks, his back to Levi’s table. He remained frozen for some seconds, then slowly turned back and approached Levi, a slight smile on his face. As Hevel walked away, Issa stood in front of the table and stared at Levi curiously.
”Yes?” demanded the tax-collector. “Can I help you?”
”Do you know,” replied Issa, smiling even more broadly. “I think you might!”
“Help you do what?”
“Help me to collect.”
“What do you collect?”
They stared at each other, then Levi tied up his leather money pouch and scooped up his parchments and clay tablets in a great armful. He turned briefly to the astonished legionaries. “You two can bugger off - we’re closing early today!” He awkwardly paid each soldier a few coins, then walked away with Issa. Levi’s voice slowly faded with distance.
“I’m normally on duty until the market closes... I was getting bored with it anyway... I have other business interests, I won’t starve... My name’s Levi. I know who you are, see? I’ve been to hear you teaching three times... Bloody marvelous it was... Cheered me up a treat... Levi is my family name. My personal name is Matit-yahu, but everybody just calls me Levi... Tell you what - I know what we’ll do - I’ll throw a dinner party at my place for people I know, and you and your companions will be the guests of honour. There’s lots of people I know who would be very interested to meet you and hear your views. Tomorrow night - how’s that for you...? Not doing anything, are you...?
The country house of Levi Matit-yahu the tax collector was opulent. He employed household servants and his house was situated within a tall outer wall which enclosed pleasant gardens and a pool with a fountain. In the grounds, awnings had been suspended over low tables where guests could recline at ease on couches. There were three of these great tables, each of which could cater for thirty guests. According to prevailing custom, important guests were positioned nearest the big house, less important guests occupied the table beyond, while unimportant guests were allocated the farthest table. To the side, a group of Berber musicians played a jaunty background of traditional music. Servants poured wine and carried plates of delicacies to the tables.
Levi himself reclined at the centre of the top table. On either side of him were Issa’s seven helpers and also Miriam his mother with Issa’s brothers and sisters. The couch directly beside Levi, however, was empty. Issa had vacated it and now sat and chatted with the shabbily dressed people at the lower table.
A richly dressed lawyer reclined at the top table immediately opposite Levi. Beside the lawyer were three equally fine clerics. The lawyer had turned and was scowling at the lower table. Then he turned back to speak to Levi. “You said we would meet your new Teacher and he would give an account of himself! He seems more interested in the low-lives at the bottom table! Where are his manners?”
Levi airily dismissed the question. “Oh, he’ll be back. He’s just being sociable.”
One of the clerics looked up. “Not to us he isn’t! Why is he wasting his time with unimportant people? He’s supposed to be your guest of honour, not your bouncer!”
“I’ll go and have a word with him,” sighed Levi. “Have some more of this delightful Falernian wine.” Levi walked to where Issa was chatting with people at the bottom table. It could be seen that Levi talked with Issa and pointed at the top table. Issa returned to the top table with Levi and settled himself down on the vacant couch. He studied the lawyer and the clerics for a long moment before speaking to them.
“Do you gentleman have a problem?”
“The problem is not ours - it is yours,” snapped the most senior of the clerics. “You waste your time speaking to those of no importance. You need to be here, talking to us. This is what we came here for. We are interested in you. You are coming to our attention with increasing frequency.”
“We are the people you should be spending your time with,” said the Lawyer sharply. “Impress us, and you might go far. Offend us, and you will be forgotten like the dust from our shoes!”
Issa rose to his feet slowly and somewhat menacingly, with a hard expression on his face. With a deliberate pace he walked a few steps until he could squat down behind the lawyer and the cleric. He put his arms firmly round their shoulders, as though being friendly. He squeezed their shoulders a couple of times, not gently. When he spoke, it was in a loud voice that everyone on the table could hear.
“So, ‘gentlemen’; you want me to talk to you, do you? Very well, I will talk to you.” His tone became contemptuous. “Lawyers and clerics! The privileged who believe your own shit doesn’t stink! I will tell you something now, and if you have any grain of wisdom left you will heed it well.
“Those who are in fine health do not need a physician, only those who are sick. And those who pride themselves on being superior to the unfortunate do not need to hear me talk about God, because they are already gods themselves in their own eyes! I am not here to kneel down and polish the egos of the rich lawyer or the educated cleric.
“I am here to explain things to those who will listen. I do not waste my time on those who already think they know it all!”
Issa gave another hard and sinister squeeze on the two men’s shoulders, stood up without another word and returned to the bottom table fifty feet away. Levi shook and bubbled with suppressed mirth. He tried to pull himself together. He looked at the astonished Lawyer and clerics. With casual innocence he smiled broadly. “You wanted him to talk to you. Happy now?”
The walled city of Jerusalem was even busier, even louder, even more thronged with people, than was its normal situation. It was only three days before the Passover and the city’s population had suddenly been swollen by perhaps some hundred thousand arriving pilgrims – individuals, couples, whole families and a multitude of traders catering for their needs. A huge tent city sprawled outside the city walls and grew larger by the day, by the hour. The great Temple of Herod within the city rose magnificently pristine, aloof, above the dust, the ceaseless noise and the general chaos.
Walking purposefully through the wide gate in the wall surrounding the splendid edifice came Issa, Shimon Cephas, Andreas, Cousin Yohanan, Cousin Yagov, Philippos and Bar-Talmai. The outer grounds of the temple, the Court of Gentiles, was completely thronged with people of all races and beliefs who were marveling at the massive building and its courtyards. Against the inner wall nearby there was a colonnade beneath which were over a dozen large tables. By each table stood a richly-dressed cleric. The tables contained displays of money chests and silver and gold items for sale.
Clerics shouted at the tops of their voices; “Get your change here!”; “Best exchange rates in the land!”; “Most currencies accepted!”; “Change your money for local coinage! Cheapest rates!”; “Gold and silver items purchased!” They were doing a roaring trade. Behind the money-changers were roped-off areas where forlorn groups of oxen, sheep, goats, calves and lambs snorted, bleated and pawed the ground. Clerics standing by the animal pens were shouting out at the crowds; “Get your sacrifice here!”; “Best prices anywhere!”; “Sacrificial oxen!”; “Sacrificial lambs!” and: “Sacrifice an ox - show God how much you love Him! It’s money well spent!”
Nearby, four smaller stalls held wooden cages filled with agitated white doves. The vendors of these were also shouting out to the crowds. “White doves! White doves! Get your sacrificial white doves here! Send your message to God! Make sure He notices you!”
Issa and his helpers approached with grim expressions and stopped in the crowd some ten feet from the moneychangers; they gave traders a hard stare.
Issa called out. “Are we Ready?”
A muttered chorus of agreement came from his helpers. Issa shouted again; “Now!”
All of them produced large chain flails from their clothing and rushed upon the traders screaming and yelling and beating them with the flails. They tipped over tables. Boxes of coins crashed on flagstones. It was chaos, and it was violent! The gang, including Issa, punched those who resisted. Spatters of blood flew. It was not gentle; it was fighting rage. Traders ran yelling, abandoning their pitches. Andreas and Bar-Talmai chased them, roaring loud profanities and lashing their flails. People in the crowd were screaming. Issa, Shim’on Cephas, Cousin Yohanan, Cousin Yagov and Philippos, yelling in frenzy, stormed into the cattle pens and attacked the traders, punching and beating. Most of the traders fled in fear.
. Shim’on Cephas and Cousin Yagov released the livestock. They yelled and waved their arms, driving the animals to stampede through the startled crowd toward a gate in the outer wall. The cattle burst out into the tents and buildings beyond the temple. The general uproar was deafening.
Then Issa and some of his colleagues ran toward the traders selling doves. Before they could reach them, however, in terrified panic the traders opened the cages and shook them. As Issa and his colleagues approached, a flock of released white doves flew up and over them, soaring rapidly into sky. The dove-traders prostrated themselves on hands and knees, terrified, begging for mercy.
Issa, grim, panting and spattered with blood, turned to face the general crowd, who were now motionless, appalled, stunned, angry, fearful. He roared at the throng, panting in great anger.
”It should not be that the works of profit have an honoured place in this holy building! Man cannot keep his covenant with God by charging God rent for His own temple! Is it not right to do right, even if the whole world be astonished at you?
“If a great multitude is wicked and a single man is righteous, does that mean the multitude is right and the righteous man is wrong? Is it better to dwell in darkness, or to light a single candle? Today, we have brought light into the darkness! Was this wrong? Should I have shrugged and let the darkness triumph? You be the judges!”
People in the crowd begin to talk to each other animatedly. It was apparent that the general consensus was a mood of agreement.
At this point, several robed clerics and a squad of a dozen Roman soldiers ran through the scattering crowd towards Issa and his helpers. The leading cleric wore the full regalia of a High Priest. Coming to a halt, he glanced at the wreckage strewn around and then looked the panting Issa directly in the eye.
“I am Jairus, a senior priest of the temple and a member of the Sanhedrin. Explain yourselves. By what right do you take it upon yourselves to do this thing? Is this not the holy Temple? Do you not profane it with your noise and violence?”
Issa still panted. “How long did it take to build this Temple?”
Puzzled at the question, Jairus answered. “Altogether, forty-six years – why do you ask this?”
”Because in three days I could raise a better temple than this within my heart. For in the temple that is within me, I will permit no traders or changers of coinage to set up their shops, to make of my body a market place and turn me into a whore who sells her soul for money. But you have permitted this here in your temple. Should the Temple be a doorway to the light of God, or to the darkness of man?
“You may be priests, but each of you could make yourself more pure in a few days by reaching for God in your hearts than this great Temple has done in forty-six years! Why not transform yourselves inside, so that you each make a temple within you which is pure? Then honour this stone Temple of God in that same way, keeping it as pure as you would keep your own hearts.
“Surely a temple is no different from a brothel unless it is kept pure, whether it took forty-six years to build or a thousand years. And my heart, and yours, can be built more righteously in just a few days, if you worship God and not buildings and profit.
Issa’s voice rose to a shout. “Don’t you see? Unless your own hearts are within these stones, they are worthless! Just a huge, meaningless cattlemarket!”
A sudden silence descended. A man’s voice called out from the watching crowd. ”He speaks the truth!”
There began a widespread murmur of general agreement from the crowd.
A woman’s voice shouted; “They have acted righteously in the sight of God!”
Sounds of agreement among the crowd grew louder. Another man’s voice shouted loudly. “It’s supposed to be a place of God, not a family business!”
Jairus weighed Issa up carefully for a long moment, then turned to the squad of legionaries and waved them away. “Go! Go! Back to your barracks. You won’t be needed here.”
The twelve legionaries looked at each other, shrugged, spat and walked off. Jairus looked at Issa again; he slowly nodded his head.
”It seems the people approve of what you did. I know who you are. I have heard of you. You are Issa, from Nat’zeret. It is said that you are a remarkable teacher, even more popular with the people than Yohanan the Baptist.”
He turned to address the milling crowd, his voice ringing loudly. ”I say that this man has committed no fault! He and his men have done what is right in the eyes of God. They are free to go and will not be harmed.”
Issa stared at Jairus in amazement, then nodded at him slowly. Issa and all his helpers walked into the crowd. People slowly pulled back, making a clear path for them. The crowd stared as they passed. One person somewhere in the crowd started clapping. A second person joined in, then a third. Applause quickly spread through the whole crowd. People started cheering.
Some men did not feel like cheering. In the rear colonnade area of wrecked market stalls and smashed and empty cages several bruised and grazed clerics surveyed the wreckage angrily.
“This was just a few extremists,” stated one. “Tomorrow trading can begin again. We have only lost part of a day’s takings.”
“That’s not the point,” grumbled another. “The words that man spoke to the crowd are likely to take root, like a small seed that grows into a harvest. We will be ruined!”
The first cleric shook his first and grimaced with blazing eyes. “We will spread word to give no heed to this man, because he has blasphemed within the House of God!”
“Will they believe us?” queried another worriedly.
The first cleric spat. “We must make them believe us! We have to protect our arses!”
Levi Matit-yahu the Tax Collector was quite a wealthy man. He and his wife maintained two houses, one in the country where dinners and celebrations could be catered for, the other a large town-house in Jerusalem. Issa and his helpers, except for Levi himself, entered the town house following their active protest in the Temple courtyard. The main downstairs room had bright rugs, colourful wall hangings and opulent furnishings. The gang relaxed and sat on the floor. After a few minutes Levi’s manservant Lebbaeus entered, bearing a pot of wine and goblets. Shimon Cephas stared hard at Lebbaeus as he filled the goblets. He offered one to Shimon Cephas, who suddenly beamed at him.
“Lebbaeus, you are a great man!” He gulped down the entire cupful of wine in one toss.
“Possibly greater than you think, Shimon. I am paid to be Levi’s secretary and book-keeper, not his wine butler.”
“Then you are a doubly great man, and we thank you for this courtesy. I am parched.”
Lebbaeus handed out goblets of wine to the others. “This I am not paid to do. This I do out of respect, for I happen to agree with what you were going to do today. Did it go well?”
Andreas answered him reflectively. “It went very well. We made our point known to a great crowd of people, and even to a High Priest, who decided we had acted righteously and let us go free.”
There were sounds of people entering the house. Levi Matit-yahu and his wife Bithiah came into the room looking very serious. Shimon Cephas raised his goblet “Our good host and hostess. I salute you and thank you for your hospitality.” Levi and his wife stared at him without speaking.
“What is wrong?” asked Shimon, suddenly rising to his feet looking at their faces. “Our adventure went well today.”
Bithiah approached Shim’on Cephas and placed her hands on his arm. Her face was troubled as she looked up at the tall man. “Shimon - we have heard terrible news. Yohanan, the Baptist, has been beheaded on Herod’s order.”
The face of Shim’on Cephas slowly collapsed into a weeping mask of grief. Both Bithiah and Levi embraced him as he sobbed.
In the night there was a dark street of dusty sand lined by two rows of block-shaped wattle-and-daub houses from inside which occasional dim candle light flickered from a few windows. In the middle distance the great Temple of Solomon loomed over everything except the stars and occasional night-clouds, rising above buildings and the clustered tents of transient Passover pilgrims. Blazing braziers were kept on the Temple walls to light the edifice so that it may be seen at night from afar.
A man walked furtively into the end of the street. He hurried silently past the few other people who were out in the night, with his head bowed so that his face could not be seen. He was wrapped in a long dark cloak which was folded over his head and lower face and was held in place by his right hand. He disappeared round a corner at the end of the street and walked equally furtively down another. This brought him to the town house of Levi Matit-yahu. The man paused and examined the outside of the affluent dwelling. He looked quickly up and down the empty street, then banged softly but urgently on the thick wooden door. After a short while there was the sound of bolts being withdrawn from within. A chink of flickering candlelight showed as the door was opened a crack.
It was Lebbaeus who had opened the door and he now conducted the cloaked man into the otherwise empty main room. “I wish to speak with Issa the Teacher,” stated the visitor, his cloak still covering his face except for the eyes.
“If you wait in here, I will see if he will come down to see you,” responded Lebbaeus. “Everyone is sleeping on the roof, it’s much cooler up there. Please help yourself to wine.” He gestured at a shelf of wine and metal goblets, then disappeared through a door. His quiet footfalls could be heard as he mounted unseen stairs.
The cloaked visitor was pacing about anxiously until he heard footfalls approaching down the stairs. Lebbaeus and Issa entered the room. “Teacher,” said Lebbaeus quietly, “would you like me to stay… just in case?”
Issa looked deeply into the mystery man’s eyes. “I’ll be all right, I think. Many thanks, Lebbaeus.”
Lebbaeus left the room. Issa and the cloaked visitor stood face to face, trying to sum each other up. Slowly the man removed his cloak and let it drop on the floor. Underneath he was wearing only a plain and simple tunic. Issa peered into his face closely. Then he spoke quietly, in some surprise. “Jairus? Jairus the High Priest and member of the Sanhedrin?”
“We met yesterday when you and your friends... visited... the Temple!” agreed Jairus, smiling slightly.
“Let us be seated.”
The two men sat on the rug-strewn floor, facing each other.
“I do not come to you as Jairus the High Priest, Jairus of the Sanhedrin. I come to you now as Jairus the man, Jairus the servant of God. Tonight I lay aside the finery and insignia of the Temple priesthood. Tonight I wear a cloak.”
Issa slowly nodded his understanding.
Jairus continued. ”I have dedicated my life to serving God by serving His Temple in Jerusalem. I love what the Temple can be, at its best, in its perfect form. Not as it has become under the influence of those who believe God grants them privileges. I have been a High Priest for twelve years, and I love the Temple as though it was my very flesh and blood, as though it was my daughter! Each day of my life I tend to her carefully. And when your words pierced my heart yesterday, I was forced to admit that my daughter the Temple now lies at the point of death.”
Now, for a brief moment, his face took on a savage countenance which was quickly replaced by his more usual urbane and unruffled appearance. He continued.
“Everything the Temple of God should be, everything it should aspire to, is being undermined by the greed of avaricious men who are unworthy to serve her.”
Now he hesitated for several moments.
“I have heard many things about you, about your wisdom, about your teaching, about your fight for the purity of the human spirit. I beg you now to come and be a priest in the Temple!
“Lay your own hands on her, so that she may be healed, so that she may live again as God’s House should live. If you would only come to teach in the Temple, she would come back to life and purity and take her proper place as the house of the gateway to the Light of God.”
A solitary tear could be seen leaving Issa’s eye and running down his face. He leaned forward and grasped Jairus by the shoulder.
“It is not the single man who speaks who can save the Temple, but those who are prepared to hear what is spoken! The change must be within them, not in my coming to supervise them.
”Think of it in this manner. Suppose a certain woman had been bleeding her life blood for twelve years, as you have bled yours as a priest for twelve years. Suppose she had taken the advice of many physicians, spending her life savings on their patent cures, but had grown worse instead of better. For you have wept blood at the sickness which has gripped that which you regard as your very daughter. If that woman heard me speak the word of the light of God which must be found within the heart, not elsewhere, not in the greed of physicians, she would herself have the power to save herself. By this change of heart we are made whole within. By this we are healed of the plague of corruption within ourselves.”
Issa smiled at Jairus, shaking his head slightly. “It is not my touch that can heal the ills of the Temple, it is not my presence there that can do that. Her cure is in the hearts of those who serve her, like you, who are aware of the plague that has come upon her and are given passion by finding this light within their own hearts, although their lives have been touched by the mere brushing of my robe as I pass by. Let me promise you, your daughter is not dead. She only sleeps, until you yourself, and all those who share your grief with you, can awaken her.”
Lebbaeus stood outside the door of his master Levi Matit-yahu’s house at Kaphar-naum, where a dinner party had recently been held in which Issa had upbraided a lawyer and some clerics. It was bright daylight and Lebbaeus was troubled. He folded his arms anxiously, watching as an immense crowd thronged around the house and grounds, because it had been rumored that the Teacher, Issa, was there. More people were arriving every minute to swell the throng.
In the distance four men approached the edge of the great crowd carrying between them a simple wooden stretcher. On the stretcher was a man of about 40 paralyzed from the shoulders down. The stretcher bearers attempted to walk in the direction of the house, but found it difficult to move safely through the teeming throng of people. Four other men and three women walked with the stretcher-bearers, obviously members of the same party. One of the men spoke to the stretcher-bearers.
”There’s no chance of getting near if we go the front way. We’ll have to try going round the back! I have an idea.” He turned and spoke in a friendly voice to the paralyzed man. ”Don’t worry Maluch - we’ll get you to him one way or another, I promise you!” The stretcher-bearers and their companions awkwardly turned through the crowd, making a detour along the rough dirt road which passed by the house.
Ten minutes later two of the men had managed to clamber unnoticed up a back wall and onto the flat roof of Levi’s big house. Two pairs of hands used makhaira, long knives, to dig away at the tan surface which was fragmenting to reveal wooden laths and beams beneath. The digging work was frantic and the hole enlarged rapidly. The other men and women of the party were carefully manhandling the stretcher onto the main roof from a lower one. There was a sudden muffled sound of a great crash.
A large area of the flat roof had collapsed into the room below: the air was thick with dust, which billowed upwards through the ragged-edged hole. It could be seen from above that the room was a bedroom. Much of the roof and its beams and fragments now lay scattered and broken on the bed, the carpets and other furniture. There was a sudden silence for a few moments. Then the bedroom door opened and Levi Matit-yahu stepped into the room. He grasped his head in his hands with horror.
“The main bedroom! The main bedroom!” he shrieked, his tone high-pitched and astounded. “What are you thinking of?”
One of the men looking down through the great hole called down. “Don’t just stand there – please help steady the stretcher!”
As though in a bad dream, Levi muttered loudly, his tone still high-pitched; “Stretcher? Stretcher? What is this stretcher?”
As though sleepwalking, Levi walked unsteadily across the rubble into the middle of the room, where he tilted his head back to look up. The stretcher appeared above the big hole, manhandled carefully by the people on the roof. They began to lower it on ropes. The stretcher caught on a protruding piece of roof lath and began to tilt. The paralyzed man groaned.
Levi raised his arms and flapped his hands, alarmed. Shrilly he shouted; “No! No! Your bed is catching on the roof beams. Take it up a little! Up-up-up! That’s it! Now move it this way a little. That’s right – you got it! Now lower it gently – No! No! No! Slowly! Slowly! You at the head end, more slow! More slow! You’re too fast! You on the left foot, level up! Level up! Easy! Easy” Down to me! Down to me!”
As the stretcher came within his reach, Levi grasped it carefully and gently guided it down until it was resting levelly on the floor amid the rubble.
Levi looked down at the paralyzed man and his face suddenly became a mask of concern. He knelt in the rubble beside the stretcher and reached out his hand to gently stroke the paralyzed man’s cheek with the backs of his fingers. There were tears in Levi’s eyes.
The huge crowd of people entirely blocked the road in front of Levi’s house and occasional groups were still arriving. There was an uproar of conversation and opinion swapping. Suddenly the heavy double front doors at the top of four rising stone steps were thrown open by Labbaeus and Shimon Cephas. A silence fell within twenty seconds. Then, from inside, emerged the four stretcher-bearers, slowly and carefully carrying the stretcher and its occupant on their shoulders. The other men and women of their party followed. Issa came with them.
The crowd before the door slowly shuffled back with a general slight jostling, making a clear area before the house. The stretcher-bearers gently lowered the paralyzed man on his bed until it was firmly on the ground. A respectful silence descended upon the huge crowd as Issa knelt by the head of the paralyzed man and smiled at him.
“Your heart is already made pure by the strength of your desire to seek enlightenment. Your sins have already been absolved. You are a blessed man and God loves you forever!”
Hearing this, an astonished murmur spread through the throng. Issa stood up and gazed at the crowd, who were muttering disapprovingly.
“Do you question what I say to this man? What should I have said? Go away because it is wrong to seek God in such a fashion?
“By his unquenchable desire to hear about the light of God, he has already gained a greater light within his heart than many who have been here a longer time waiting for the light of God to be handed out to them on a plate!”
Issa turned back to the paralyzed man. “You need search for the light of God no more, for your heart is already filled with that light, because you sought for it.”
Issa turned back to the crowd. ”Can you understand now? You cannot gain the understanding of the light of God by queuing up for it to be handed out to you! If you are prepared to look for it within yourself, then you have already found it! That is all that is necessary. That is all you have to do. It is that simple!
“Enlightenment is bestowed upon you by the very act of seeking for it. It is not a pot of gold buried in the ground so that you must spend your lifetime searching for it, yet never find it. It will not be handed out to you in any temple, even if you spend your whole life in that temple.
”The day you stop searching for the light of God out in the world, and, instead, start searching for it within yourself, that is the same day in which you have already found that which you seek.
”Only seek within you, and you shall find!” Issa turned to the paralyzed man’s companions. “Take him home and continue to love him, because, inside, he is stronger than any other who came here today.” The stretcher-bearers raised the bed and the party began to move away from the house. An astonished crowd silently parted to make a clear path for them. A man began to clap as they passed, and then a woman joined in, and then another, and another, until after a few seconds the entire crowd was clapping and cheering.
Candles were flickering on the table and, around the walls and elsewhere, a great many other candles of various sizes gave illumination to the library of the Hemis monastery. The current scroll rested on the sloping wooden reading-stand and it could be seen that it had reached its end, which was curling.
Brother Nacca Sutta sat motionless with his eyes closed. Facing him, Nicholas Notovitch sat without moving, eyes wide, deep in thought. His expression was stunned. After several moments a distant gong sounded once, followed by a quiet chiming of tingsha, small finger-cymbals, which was followed by the distant sound of Buddhist monks chanting prayers. Then brother Nacca Sutta spoke gently without opening his eyes.
“You seem distressed, my dear friend. I still harbor doubts regarding the wisdom of reading you this account. We are your hosts, and it is painful for any host to think that they have done anything that causes upset to their guest.”
Notovitch answered very quietly. “I am not distressed; I am learning things which are very different to everything that has been presented to me since birth as being unquestionable truth.”
Brother Nacca Sutta now opened his eyes and looked sadly into those of his companion. “Then I am responsible for undermining your personal convictions. That is against my own convictions. Buddhists do not proselytize. We do not go out to drum-up fresh converts! There are a great many paths up the mountain, not just one. Each person must search for their own inner truth, not have someone else’s truth forcibly stamped upon them.” Brother Nacca Sutta reached out and grasped Notovitch’s hand in both of his, almost like a lover. Tears begin to fall down the monk’s cheeks as he continued speaking. ”Only after death will we find out who was right and who was wrong. Everyone in the world should pursue their own belief to find spirituality and fulfillment - and hope to be reincarnated as a Buddhist in the next life!”
Notovitch remained silent for a few moments, thinking. ”My good friend, whatever Truth might be, it cannot be made more true or less true, either by love or by anger. Truth does not need to be polished into a greater truth by rubbing it with the force of one’s belief. Nor can truth be damaged by any other truth. Truth is. And it is up to us to seek and accept it, or reject it and look elsewhere. And someone who looks away from truth to find truth, has already left the path of reason.”
Brother Nacca Sutta nodded. ”But truth is like a rope; it is made from a mass of smaller truths woven together. And in reading these scrolls to you, I am unraveling the very rope you have climbed all your life. I fear what I am doing to you.”
”Then, my brother,” replied Notovitch smiling slightly, “you fear change, and you fear being the instrument of change. Yet even waking up in the morning changes that day, for if you died in the night and did not waken in the morning, that day would be changed, and all the days that ever followed it would be changed also. Even drawing a single breath will produce a change, for if you stopped taking single breaths, you would die at a different time than you otherwise would have.”
Notivitch gently gripped Brother Nacca Sutta’s clasping hands and stared into the monk’s eyes. ”There is no damnation except ignorance, and there is no salvation except understanding. Please, I beg you, favour me by reading to me more of this story - Teacher!”
Brother Nacca Sutta laughed through his tears. ”Who is teaching whom here, I wonder?” He sobered up and became inscrutable once again. Notovitch stared at the scrolls in their box, then reached out to touch them gently with his fingertips. He spoke very softly, almost in a whisper.
“Could it be? Could this be the Q Document?”
“The Q Document? What is that? I have not heard of this.”
“The Q document has been proposed by many scholars over the years. ‘Q’ is from the German word ‘Quelle’ which means ‘the source’. It has been postulated as the original document on which the Gospels in the New Testament were later based but distorted by fanatics to improve the impact of their content.”
Brother Nacca Sutta weighed this up reflectively for a moment. Then he sighed and smiled. “I shall continue reading to you, I promise. But no more today please. You must now rest and give your leg some more healing time.”
The two of them unclasped their hands and Brother Nacca Sutta helped Notovitch to rise from his stool on his crutches and held him as he walked. Hobbling, the two of them left the library room.
On a rather barren and uninhabited area on the edge of the Sea of Galilee a huge crowd was seated on the ground, facing the water. There was a slight rise near the shoreline and a small boat had been upturned on top of it to make a seat of sorts. Issa sat on the upturned boat facing the crowd, his back to the water. In a half-circle on the ground in front of him sat his team of helpers. Issa was speaking loudly, so as to be heard by all in the throng.
“Let me tell you a simple little story. Once upon a time a sower went out to sow in the fields. Think of me as that sower. As the seed was thrown from the basket, some of it fell on untended ground, and the birds came and gobbled it up. That seed is those people who listen but choose to ignore what is said, for they prefer to follow the dark side of their hearts which devours their minds and thoughts like the crows.
“Some of the seed fell on ground filled with stones, and it tried hard to grow, but it had no depth for the roots to develop and it withered away in the heat. That seed is those who listen and start to look for the light of God in their hearts, but after a time they abandon the search because they let the demands of the world distract them and claim their hearts instead.
”Some of the seed fell among thorns, which grew and choked it and covered it in shadow so that it did not develop to become a good harvest. That seed is those who hear the words and understand the light of God and where it may be found within them, but they let the worries of this world, and the chasing of riches and physical lusts, and the words and actions of others, choke their hearts and cover them in shadow.
”But some of the seed fell on good earth and it sprang up and grew properly. This seed is those who hear the word and let it enter fully into their heart, and they see the light that comes to fruit within their heart, and they will not turn back to the darkness. They will become a good crop.
“If your ears hear this, let your hearts hear it too!”
Issa now stood up on the hillock beside the upturned boat. “Many people can listen to what I say. Those who hear, and who guide their paths by this teaching, will understand the enlightenment of God. But there will be others who tread the same road, but do not guide their feet by this teaching, and they journey in darkness.”
He pointed at the sparkling Sea of Galilee. “Suppose there were enough fishing boats here for everybody to cross over the water to the far shore. That is the journey we make from birth to death across the sea of life. A whole fleet of fishing boats. The darkness of the world would then be like a great storm which raises the waves so that they begin to rock and scatter the boats and the far shore cannot be seen.
”But suppose I had been sleeping on one of those boats, the same as I have not always been here with you, and I woke and held up a light to steer by so that you could find the right direction, and suppose I made the storm and the darkness go away because my teaching of finding the power of light overcame the darkness, then we would come ashore in calm and safety.
”Yet other ships whose people had not understood the light of my words would be scattered in the darkness. So never be afraid of the darkness and storms that afflict our lives so often, but just have faith in the light that comes from inside your heart. That is where God looks into your soul.”
At this point, a man shouted out loudly from the crowd. “I want to know why you always teach people out in the empty spaces. Why do you never come into the Temple to preach properly?”
A second man, encouraged by the first, shouted out from another part of the crowd. “Most of the people who come to listen to you in these places are the workers, the farmers, the peasants - the unimportant! Why do you waste your time on them?”
Then a woman shouted from the crowd. “Shouldn’t you first be explaining such things to the temple priests and the high-up people? You should get their authority to preach!”
Issa rounded on the shouters with sudden anger, pointing at them savagely. He shouted in fury at the top of his voice. “I bring the word of the enlightenment of truth to whoever listens! Nobody can hear the words I speak unless they come to hear them from me, even if they are clerics and rulers!
“Every day the clerics have many people come to consult them on this matter or that. The clerics are forever listening, and yet they hear nothing except the grunting of pigs! If someone is prepared to travel into the countryside to hear what I say, by this very effort they are making themselves ready to hear the word of the light of God, and not the grunting of pigs!
“The word of the true light of God can only come to someone if that person themselves makes the effort to come to the light, whether they are a noble or a servant. And all of these people you are standing amongst, though they may only be lowly and ‘unimportant’ people as you say, have made an effort to bring themselves to hear word about that enlightenment!
“Those who prefer to sit on their arses and wait for enlightenment to be delivered to them, so they do not have to make any effort to gain it, will hear nothing except the grunting of pigs about them!”
Issa calmed down and looked round at the whole crowd. He was breathing heavily, and visibly made himself relax. He continued in a calm manner and a slightly softer tone.
”Think of it this way. If I were to walk amongst the walled tombs of Gadara, and I met someone who was out of his head and lived among the tombs, and he could not be captured because he could pull chains apart and smash fetters, and he lived like a wild beast and could not be tamed - who could be in a lowlier position in society?
”And yet, if that madman, who had been howling at the Moon and wailing amongst the tombs and cutting himself by running into walls, should run to me and cry out that he wanted to understand the light of God, then he would be more holy than the cleric, the law-giver, the high-born and the priesthood of the temple!
”But those people who will not stir themselves to come and seek out what is spoken, and who will not join with the low-born to hear what is said to them, those people are like a great herd of pigs feeding, and they will remain in their darkness until they run blindly down that steep slope upon whose peak they like to stand above everyone else, and fall into the sea where they drown.
“And good riddance to them! They would not benefit from my teaching - but he from the tombs who came to hear me in this wilderness, he would benefit from my teaching!”
Some days later Issa was speaking to half-a-dozen men laboring in a crop field. The men began to walk away and resume their task, but one of them stayed to continue talking with Issa. And at that time Issa chose five more to join those who were already his companions and helpers. There was Ta’oma…
On another day Issa was talking to several people standing amongst the baskets of fruit they were harvesting. One man stepped forward towards Issa. There was Yagov son of Hilfai…
On another evening Issa walked with three tough and villainous-looking men
When he turned away, one of the men followed him. There was Shimon the Rebel.
At another time Issa sat on a bench outside a mud-brick house enjoying a meal and wine with two men and two women. All were laughing and jesting. When Issa rose to go, both of the men followed him. And there was Thaddai and Yehuda of Kerioth, and then we were twelve.
The royal palace of King Herod at Caesarea Palastinae was an imposing structure of some age and splendor overlooking the blue Mediterranean. However, where once the guards had been Israelites, they were now replaced by Roman soldiers, for the region was under Roman government and Herod was king only on sufferance of the Roman governor. At this particular moment, Herod was pacing up and down having a rant in the huge and magnificent King’s Stateroom, which a few years earlier had been commandeered, without asking, to be a suitable office for a new Roman Governor, Praefectus Pontius Pilatus. At this moment, the Praefectus was seated at a magnificent desk while attempting to play the calm, urbane and balanced administrator.
“I executed Yohanan the Baptist for causing dissent and now he has risen from the dead to plague us again!” spat Herod, furious. “I tell you, it is him! He has risen from the dead! Everyone is saying it! He was a holy man. He might even have been a prophet. He has been resurrected by God to stir the people to revolt!”
Pontius Pilatus sighed. “Calm yourself. In this land, holy men jump out at you shouting “Boo!” every time you turn a corner. If you could find a way to export them wholesale, we could make a fortune.”
. “You should not treat it so lightly,” complained Herod, still angry. “Some people say it is the prophet Eli-yahu resurrected from the reign of Ah-hab. Others say it is a new prophet returned from exile in India or some other such far place. But when I am told what he is saying to the masses, I know it is Yohanan risen from the dead!”
“Yet - so far - he has not committed any crime against the laws of Rome.”
Herod stopped pacing, his expression visibly taking offence, “He has insulted me!”
“So? I insult you every day.”
Herod replied irritably. “That’s not the point. One expects to be insulted by Romans. This man is a peasant of my own people. He should show respect to his king. He is trying to stir up a revolt!”
Pontius Pilatus spoke patiently. “Yet no revolt has come from his actions. There will always be dissenters and rebels, and the troops will always eradicate them if they take up arms and try to become organized.”
“But this man is fanatical! He is leading a revolt against me – and against Rome!”
“Then show me his army,” invited the Roman.
“Every word he utters to the crowds is an insult to me!” spat Herod angrily.
”Rome does not exist to avenge insults to client-kings - otherwise the legions would have to arrest every person in this land! You must stand back and take a loftier view of things. Flinging insults is not a crime; it seems to be your national pastime. If this man breaks Roman law, I will ensure he answers properly for whatever crime he may commit. I will not arrest him for calling you names - or for trying to explain your strange, invisible and lonely god to the people. I wish him luck in that!”
Herod visibly forced himself to become calm. “And if it can be proven according to the statutes of Roman law that he is plotting an actual revolt, a seizure of power, what then?”
”Then he will be judged by Roman law accordingly, not by a royal lynch-mob!” Pontius Pilatus paused. “You think he is Yohanan risen from the dead. Will it make you feel any better if he is executed again and then jumps back up to haunt you for a third time?”
The two men stared daggers at each other.
In a tract of open countryside a huge crowd of people had gathered all through the morning and were sitting on the ground. In the middle of the crowd was a clear space, kept empty by Issa’s twelve helpers and Miriam of Migdal who stood in a circle facing the throng. Issa stood in the clear centre, turning slowly, surveying the crowd. He held up his arms and a silence slowly spread through the multitude. When he spoke, all could hear his voice.
“You are poor! The poor are privileged, for they can see the light of God. Some of you mourn. You are privileged, for knowledge of the light of God will comfort you. Those who now weep are privileged, for you will laugh again. The meek are privileged, for they will cover the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are privileged, for they will know the light of God. The merciful are privileged, for they will receive mercy. The pure in heart are privileged, for they already have the light of God within them. Those who want peace in the land are privileged, for they shall be called the People of God. Those who are righteous but are persecuted unjustly are privileged, for they share the light of God.
“You are privileged if you believe what I say, yet are insulted and despised for it; for you are the candles of God in the darkness. You are the lights of the world. Let your light shine forth and be seen by all people.”
Issa again looked slowly round at the sea of faces.
“Please - do not think that I come here to break the law, or to insult the prophets or the clerics and law-givers, or to destroy the scriptures or temples. I have not come to destroy, but to repair! I give to you a vision of the light of God which is greater than that of the clerics and priests, who obey every law in all the scriptures, yet cannot see the light of God because their very learning gets in the way of their understanding.
“God once told us; ‘You shall not kill’. That is the law given in stone to Mosheh. But you must do more than slavish obedience! I tell you, it is not enough to merely stay your hand from killing, for even just being angry with someone puts you inside a cloud of darkness.
”You will not make yourself a good person by taking a gift to the poor, if, at the same time, you hate somebody for some reason. First, abandon your hate, then make your gift to the poor, and your gift will be more perfect, for it is then given by a pure soul.
“Do not do what the clerics and priests do, cleaning the outside of their cup and bowl, yet leaving the inside full of filth, greed and wickedness. It is not that which goes into our mouth that defiles us, it is that which comes out of our mouth.
“And how can the clerics say to you; ‘you have a speck of dust in your eye, I will remove it for you’, when they don’t even realize that they have a wooden beam in their own eye?”
There was a ripple of laughter through the crowd. Issa continued.
“It was written in stone; ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you, if a man even looks at a woman with lust, he has already committed adultery with her inside his heart - hasn’t he?
“It has been said; ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. What good is that? The wheel just turns round again and you love someone else and hate someone else. I say to you - love your enemies! Because if you only love those who love you, how can love increase in the world?
”And when you pray, do not put on a show, do not pray in public because you want everyone to know you are praying, so they will think that you are a splendid person. Prayers made in public are only heard by the public. Only prayers made in private, in your heart, are heard by God, and anything else is vanity.”
A man in the crowd shouted out; “Teacher? How should we pray then?”
“Like this,” answered Issa. “My Holy Father, your Name is sacred to me. I shall one day be with you, and I shall do your will while I am on earth. Grant that I may eat and drink today. Give me the courage to forgive those who wrong me, because you forgive all those who wrong you. Help my heart to reject temptation and the lure of evil. Because your light is the power that can shine within all people, and it is eternal down all the ages. So let it be.”
There was silence for several moments, and then the whole crowd spontaneously broke into loud applause and cheering.
The Roman Praefectus Pontius Pilatus was standing alone gazing across a balcony and out through an ornamental open arch at the blazing blue sea and sky. He held a gold cup of wine in one hand. Behind him there came a sudden sound of insistent footsteps and Herod entered the room at the far end. He stopped inside the doorway and shouted angrily at the Prefect.
“He now re-writes our sacred laws! We let him go too far! He has to be stopped! If we don’t, there will be an uprising! He is encouraging dissent among the masses!
Pontius Pilatus sighed deeply and turned to face Herod across the huge room. He spoke levelly. “Ah. I suppose we are once again talking about that man who has risen from the dead - what was his name? Yohanan the Baptist, wasn’t it?”
”What he calls himself doesn’t matter!” snarled Herod. “It’s what he is doing that matters.”
“Then please tell me what he is doing. All I have heard is that he teaches people how to pray and live a good and holy life, and doesn’t like professional clerics and priests very much. These things are not a crime, even in Rome.”
Herod replied scathingly. ”What do you know about it?”
Pontius Pilatus stood up from his ornate desk and poured himself another goblet of wine from a golden jug. Sipping the wine, he answered. “Like you, I have my spies scattered around and about. It can be very dangerous for any Roman official not to have a decent network of informers and spies, as Yulius Kaiser himself discovered when it was too late.”
Herod, abashed, began walking down the room towards the Praefectus. “I did not know you had your own spy network”
Pontius Pilatus raised his eyebrows slightly as he took another sip of wine. “You are not meant to know. You are one of the people they are spying on!”
Herod was now entirely deflated. “Something must be done, before it is too late. Perhaps Yulius Kaiser should also have paid attention to that. He might have lived longer! So might you, Pontius Pilatus, live longer if you would only listen to me!”
“Oh, but I do listen to you Herod. I have done little else but listen to you for many days now. I, too, have my concerns regarding maintaining order in the Province. However, like all Roman prefects, while I keep one foot in my territory, I must keep my other foot secure in Rome. There are many who would stab me in the back and be pleased to take my place, to say nothing of my villas.”
Herod reached the Prefect and Pontius Pilatus placed his hand on Herod’s shoulder. ”So, whatever may be done to remedy your problem, it must be done only according to the laws of Rome, else I, too, might be considered a rebel by the Senate and by the Imperator Teeberius. I can assure you, Herod, that I would rather have you replaced than risk offending Teeberius. Whatever we do, we shall do it in accordance with Roman laws, and offend no-one of any significance.”
King Herod scowled without speaking, turned his back and strode away angrily toward the distant exit. Pontius Pilatus deliberately waited until Herod had gone half way to the far door, then he called out with exaggerated politeness: “Oh, and Herod…?”
Herod stopped in his tracks and turned to face the Prefect. Pontius Pilatus smiled at him, but his eyes glinted like steel. “Next time you execute this Yohanan the Baptist, put a fucking great stone on top of his grave to stop him coming back up yet again!”
Herod abruptly turned on his heel without saying a word and marched out of the stateroom in fury.
In the early evening by the shore of the Sea of Galilee many hundreds of people, men, women and children, were sitting in the midst of the tufts of grass and low bushes talking freely amongst themselves. Near the water’s edge the twelve helpers and a few women, including Miriam of Migdal, could be seen chatting to people near the front of the crowd. Issa walked along the waterside towards Shimon Cephas, who turned to face him.
“It’s getting late,” stated Cephas. “We should tell those who have brought no food with them to leave now and head for nearby farms and villages to buy something to eat.”
Issa shrugged. “Why not just give them something to eat?”
Cephas frowned. “Surely you jest? There must be more than a thousand people gathered here, and over half of them have brought no food with them. It would cost a fortune to go and buy enough to feed them all.”
Cephas’ brother Andreas sat nearby and he stood up and joined them. “There are some here who are wealthy and have brought their food with them, mainly bread and fish. But there must be only two such for every five people who hunger. We must tell the crowd to disperse and find where to buy food.”
Unexpectedly, Issa suddenly laughed loudly with great merriment. He wiped his eyes. “Oh you simpletons! Will I always have to hold your hands and tell you what to do? What did Yohanan say? ‘He that has two coats, let him give one to him that has none. And he that has food, let him do likewise.’ Could you not think of this for yourselves?
”Suppose you were fishing in your boats out on the water, and the wind blew up and the waves tossed you about, and I came to you during the storm walking on the sea. I would say to you: cheer up, it is I. Don’t be afraid of the storm. And you, my Cephas, would want to copy me and also walk on the water with me. But then you see how strong the storm is, and you are suddenly afraid and start to sink. And you would cry: ‘What should I do? What should I do?’ And yet again I would reach out and guide you and tell you what to do and how to do it.
“But the time is surely going to come when I will not be with you any more. What will you do then? You must learn to stand on your own two feet against the rough waters of the world. Then it will be you who has to find the answers.”
Issa, in the middle, put his arms fondly round the two helper’s shoulders and moved them forward with him as he strolled. “Listen,” he told them. “This is what we will do…”
Several minutes later Issa and his male and female helpers could be seen moving energetically amongst the crowds of people, galvanizing them into action. They were encouraging everyone to stand up and bring their baskets of bread and fish and other food and wine and take them to the centre of the crowd, where a collection-point was set up. Those who had no food were helping with the carrying and the careful stacking. Soon a collection of many hundreds of baskets, sacks, jugs, amphorae, fruits and stringed bunches of dried fish had appeared in a space at the centre of the crowd.
As this was happening, Issa repeatedly cried out loudly to everyone: “Don’t worry that we are collecting your food. Just believe in the teaching of the light of God which I am giving to you. You will soon understand.”
Quickly, Issa and his helpers set up several distribution points around the circumference of the pile of food. At the encouragement of the helpers, the huge crowd began to form queues at each point, and more-or-less equal amounts of food were handed to each person as they reached the front of the queues.
An hour later the darkness of evening was growing and the sun was setting in the west. Most of the crowd had finished eating. The helpers were bringing armfuls of uneaten leftovers to a central pile. As they were finishing this task, Levi Matit-yahu gazed at the collection of leftovers and cried out loudly to the crowd in wonder, screaming excitedly in a high-pitched camel-driver’s ululation to attract attention.”
”Lalalalalalalalalalalalalalalala! Look! Just look!” He pointed to the pile of remaining food. “Everyone has eaten their fill, and still there are baskets of leftovers!”
Standing nearby, Issa muttered half to himself; “He that has two coats, let him give one to him that has none. And he that has food let him do likewise. It’s really not difficult…”
Not long afterwards, we all journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate the Harvest Festival, which we call the Feast of Tabernacles. Issa’s mother Miriam and his brothers and sisters went also, but we decided Issa should try to keep a low profile because by this time we knew he had enemies in the city and he was likely to be carefully watched. We therefore entered the city quietly, amongst the crowd where we would not look like an obvious group.
By the Bethesda sheep market, which was empty on this holy day, there is a public bath fed by a spring. There is a quaint but popular legend that once, long ago, the waters of this spring possessed the power to heal illness. In order for us to be ready for the Feast of Tabernacles, we were required by our beliefs to first attend a Mikvah, a place of ritual cleansing by immersion in water. Thus it was, on the Sabbath day, we entered the bath houses...
The men’s bathhouse was, in effect, a large swimming pool. Issa and all twelve of his male helpers were wholeheartedly splashing about naked in the water with a display of good-natured horseplay. The stone-walled room echoed to a lot of laughter and spluttering.
On the side of the bath at the far end from the door an old man lay alone on a wooden palanquin bed. Curiously, Shim’on Cephas and Issa stopped laughing and splashing each other and waded down to look at the old man. He was just lying there motionless staring at the water and muttering softly and repeatedly; “Let the waters be stirred... Let the waters be stirred...”
Issa and Shimon Cephas, up to their waists in water, waded closer to the old man.
“What is this that you say, my friend?” asked Issa curiously.
The old man groaned and moved in his bed, focusing his weak eyes on Issa. When he spoke, his voice was faint, tremulous and weak. “I am old and ill, and I am brought here every day to await the stirring of the waters.”
Shimon Cephas, now suddenly serious after leading the horseplay, explained quietly to Issa. “There is a local legend that the spring which feeds these pools sometimes has the power to heal, and when this power flows, the waters are stirred as though by a great wind, even though they are inside this stone building.” The old man nodded his agreement weakly.
“My friend, how long have you been stricken with this illness?” asked Issa, still up to his chest in the water.
“For thirty-eight years I have been like I am, young man, except not always this old!”
”And for how long have you been coming to this place to await the stirring of the waters?”
Almost proudly the man answered quietly; “Thirty-eight years.”
“And you really believe, after all that time, that these waters will make you whole again?”
“I do. It is a very ancient legend.”
Issa looked him straight in the eyes and grinned impishly at him. “Do you really believe that?”
The old man looked at Issa’s infectious grin. Slowly he also grinned and weakly shook his head. “No,” he sighed.
Issa spoke very gently. “And for how many more years will you come to these waters before you will admit to yourself that you have been wasting the precious time that is left to you? I beg you, don’t waste your remaining life like this. Every moment of life God gives to us is as precious as an eternity. Don’t throw away your days rotting on the edge of this pool. Spend your time, instead, enjoying what you may, and thanking God for every new hour that he sends you. Here, you are wasting what time God gives you. For whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the enlightenment of God shall thirst no more.”
The old man sighed. “My son - you are right. I am wasting my time. But we have to cling on to some kind of hope, don’t we, even when there is no real hope.”
“Ah, but it all depends on what it is that you hope for. If you were made suddenly whole right now, what would you do after giving thanks?”
“I would go home and look at my children, and my grandchildren, so that I may see them from a healthy body.”
“Yet you prefer to remain shut away at this pool where you cannot see them, so that your loving desire to be with your family is eaten away by your proud desire to look splendid before them?”
The old man slowly nodded his head again. “But I cannot return to my house for many hours. I have no choice but to remain here. My sons, who carry me in this bed, will not return for me until after dark.”
Issa energetically slapped the water with his hand. “Don’t you worry about that! My friends and I will carry you home. All you need to do is direct us to your house. Let me raise you back again into the world of life, away from this state of living death you have entered. What is your name, my friend?”
“My name is Lazarus…”
Outside the bath-houses the market area was crowded with bustling people coming and going, but there was no trade anywhere because it was the Sabbath and the surging throngs were on this day more concerned with simply going to the synagogue or the Temple, and visiting friends and relatives. In the press of the crowds, Issa and his helpers bore the old man upon his palanquin bed, which dangled from a single thick wooden pole, with Issa supporting the front on his shoulder and Shimon Cephas the back.
The following day Issa and his colleagues were relaxing in the small village of Beth-anya just a mile and a half outside Jerusalem at the house of one of his more recent adherents, Shimon the Rebel. This epithet had been bestowed upon him in the years of his youth, when he had been a political dissenter against the taxations demanded by the brother of Herod Antipas, Archelaus, whom Rome had installed as client-king. So hated did Archelaus become that Emperor Caligula of Rome – the ultimate authority – not only removed him from office in Judea but banished him for the rest of his life to the town of Vienne in Gaul. Thus his brother Herod Antipas was appointed King in his place – and Antipas knew exactly where he stood with Rome and, usually, toed the Roman line. He argued with Pontius Pilatus, who was the real power in Judea, but he knew how far he could go in disagreeing with him and made a point of always letting the Praefect have the final word in any argument.
The evening was very hot and Issa’s helpers, including Miriam of Migdal, were on the flat roof of the house as the sun began setting. Everyone was in a haphazard group on rugs and talking among themselves. After a while, Issa appeared walking up a wooden staircase and emerging through an open square hatch in the roof. He was carefully carrying a large bronze bowl of water and many clean rags over an arm. Without speaking, he placed the bowl and rags in the middle of the helpers.
As the helpers watched in astonishment, Issa shrugged off his robe and let it fall. He was wearing just a loincloth underneath. Silently, he knelt down and began to wash and dry his helper’s feet, starting with the nearest, Yagov son of Hilfai. All of his helpers stared in dumfounded silence. Next, Issa moved to Philippos and washed and dried his feet. Then he put the bowl down in front of Shim’on Cephas, who reacted with dismay.
“Master – No! No! You must not do this! I will not let you! You are our great teacher, our leader - our prince! You are no servant or slave. I will not let you do this thing!”
Issa, kneeling, looked into Shim’on Cephas’ face for a moment, then spoke fondly. “My Rock, remember what I have told you before. When I am gone, it is you who must make the right decisions and teach the right understanding to people. I shall not always be here to explain things to you.
“In all the lands, there are lords and masters, and there are ordinary people. But under the light of God, all people are equal. He who has power in the world has only the authority of armies or the laws written by man. But he who does not seek power over his fellows, he has the authority of God’s enlightenment.
“I am among you in this time to spread understanding of the enlightenment of God, not to place myself in pride above others - above you. If you refuse to let me wash your feet, then it will show that you do not understand anything I have been trying to teach you.”
Shimon Cephas was suddenly and childishly eager. “Teacher, you can wash my feet, and my hands, and my head, and my arms and legs, and my...”
Issa laughed out loud. “I only need to wash your feet, my Rock. You are already clean everywhere else.” Then he added quietly so that only Cephas could hear. “I wish all were as clean inside as you.”
Raising his voice so that all could hear he said loudly: “”Do you all understand why I am doing this? You call me Master. I am nobody’s master. I am nobody’s lord. In God’s eyes, the master is not greater than the servant or slave. Neither is one who gives orders greater than one who obeys them. I am giving you an example of this, so that you will understand, and do as I do. You ought to wash one another’s feet regularly, so that you do not forget that everyone is equal in the light of God”.
On the far side of the roof, Yehuda of Kerioth was watching and listening. His face has taken on a sour and disapproving look.
After sunset all of them went down into a large room in the back of the house. Seated at a plain wooden table were Issa; Shim’on Cephas; his Cousin Yagov; Bar-talmai; Ta-oma; Thaddai; Yehuda of Kerioth; and Shim’on the Rebel whose house it was. Cousin Yohanan and Philippos were seated on the floor, while Levi Matit-yahu, Yagov son of Hilfai and Andreas were seated on low stools at a smaller occasional table nearby. It was obvious that all of them had been crammed in at short notice, but all of them took it in good measure.
Marta, a young woman of about twenty, and Miriam of Migdal were in the process of bringing the men plates of food and pouring out wine.
Shim’on the Rebel sat between Shim’on Cephas and Thaddai. Shim’on the Rebel nudged Shim’on Cephas in the ribs conspiratorially and winked at him. Then he turned casually to Thaddai.
“Thaddai, my friend. Look there. Would you not agree that I have two beautiful sisters?” He pointed at Miriam. “This one is Miriam, the younger one is Marta. Miriam came here recently from our parent’s home in Migdal by Galilee. She has attended many of Issa’s public meetings. She is a follower. She is one of us.
Thaddai replied politely. “I would certainly agree with you. They bring credit upon your house.”
Shimon the Rebel continued impishly winding him up. “And you seem more-or-less of an age with Miriam. And you are not yet married, and nor is she. Miriam has rejected every man I have introduced her to and she remains a spinster. Why don’t you do the right thing for her - and me! - and marry her?” He put his arm round the startled Thaddai and squeezed him boisterously. “Welcome to the family, lad.”
Miriam suddenly flashed her eyes contemptuously at her brother. With some venom she replied loudly. “And the reason I turned down your friends, my uncouth brother, is that they were all like you - unsavoury, smelly, thick-headed louts with a sense of humour like a jackal and few prospects of improvement!”
Her brother appealed theatrically with outspread arms across the table towards her. ”But Miriam, it is shameful not to be married at your age.”
”Please do not show me up. I shall marry who I chose, when I chose!” She left the room with dignity, but conspicuously gazed at Issa as she passed by. As she looked at him, her expression softened and her eyes noticeably shone for a moment.
Shim’on Cephas, sitting next to Issa, nudged him as she disappeared through the door. ”You know, I think you have made a conquest there, my man!”
Issa responded by breaking off a small piece of bread and throwing it at his friend’s head before continuing to eat. Shim’on Cephas gave a single bark of laughter and also resumed eating.
After a few minutes Marta came hurrying back into the room looking concerned. “We have a visitor. A boy has arrived at our door. He says he has a message for the one who teaches. What shall I tell him?”
Shim’on Cephas looked seriously at Issa, then asked: “Does he come alone, Marta?” Marta nodded in affirmation. Shimon pondered for a moment. “Whoever it is, he knows where we are. I think we should meet him. It would be safer than pretending we are not here and never knowing who he is, or what he wishes to say. Marta, would you mind bringing this person in to us?”
Marta silently turned and left the room. In a few moments she returned leading a boy of about fifteen. The boy, undaunted, looked round the room at everyone, then spoke.
“I am Nechunya. I bring an urgent message for the man called Issa.”
Issa studied the boy for a few moments, weighing him up. “That is me. Who is your message from?”
“I was told to tell you it is from a man who once thought his daughter was dying, and that you would know who this was. I am that man’s nephew.”
Issa nodded his understanding. ”I know who you speak of - he is Jairus, a high priest of the temple and a member of the Sanhedrin. He is a good man.”
”I was told neither to say yes or no to any question, but to tell you this,” replied the boy. “You must get out of Jerusalem and hide, because Herod is plotting to have you arrested and killed. You are being followed and spied on. It is known that you performed labour on the Sabbath day, acting as bearers to a man in a carrying-bed, and there are reliable witnesses who have sworn they saw this happen. Herod is even now building a case against you. That man whose daughter was dying is risking much to send you this message.”
There was a stunned silence for a moment. Then Shim’on Cephas slowly pulled out a coin and handed it to Nechunya. “You are a very brave lad. Go carefully, by the back way. Tell that man his message has reached the person it was intended for, and give him our thanks.”
Nechunya quickly left the room with Marta.
Shimon Cephas pondered briefly. ”I think we must leave this house and split up into small groups, no more than two or three. All of us together are far too conspicuous.”
”I agree,” nodded Philippos, “but best not to leave now, in the night. That, too, would be very noticeable.”
Everyone looked at Issa for a comment, but he remained silent, deep in thought. At that moment, Miriam of Migdal entered the room again. She was weeping silently. Unashamedly, she stood behind the seated Issa and put her arms around his chest, putting her face against his neck. Emotionally she sobbed; “Why are all the good men put down and wicked ones progress swiftly and attain authority? Is that how the world must always be?”
She removed a silk bag from her belt and took from it a small carved alabaster jar. Snapping a wax seal, she opened the jar. Shim’on Cephas curiously leaned over and sniffed. Then in some surprise, he exclaimed “Nard oil!”
But Miriam was speaking only to Issa. “It is made from the spikenard plant. I have been saving it until I found a good man who I would marry. I think it is appropriate to use it now - it came to me from India, as you have done.”
Weeping silent tears, she proceeded to slowly and sensuously massage the oil into Issa’s face, then his shoulders and torso with her fingertips. As she did this, she lowered her face so that it touched Issa’s head. Everybody was staring at this in wonder. Then Levi Matit-yahu suddenly stood up and brushed breadcrumbs from his lap. He yawned theatrically, then spoke briskly. ”Well, I am going to prepare for whatever tomorrow brings by starting a good night’s sleep right away.”
He discretely left the room. There was a sudden murmur of understanding and agreement amongst the others, all of whom rather quickly hurried from the room, leaving Issa alone with Miriam of Migdal.
When they were alone in the room, Issa rose to his feet and clasped Miriam to him. They kissed passionately. Then Miriam took his hand and gently led him out of the room by another door, which closed behind them.
The Roman army in Judea had, some years previously, built a huge stronghold adjoining the great Temple in Jerusalem – the Antonia Fortress. This was the headquarters of the Roman occupation, the power behind the throne, the ultimate authority of command and control. On an upper floor of the fortress was located the Praefect’s office, a big room where the general appearance was of Roman décor rather than Hebrew. There was a large ornate desk, some chairs, Roman-style dining couches next to low tables, a few statues and other furnishings. Glassless windows looked out over the great city. Pontius Pilatus was seated at the grand desk studying parchment documents which were being handed to him by Hippocrates, his Greek male secretary.
.There was a businesslike knock at the distant door and it opened. A centurion entered and saluted in the Roman style.
“King Herod, Excellency.”
As the centurion left, Herod entered the room and walked briskly towards the Prefect’s desk. He looked pleased with himself. “I think we have him now!” he stated.
With greatly exaggerated patience, the Prefect lowered the parchment he had been reading and placed it on his desktop. He raised his eyebrows.
“And who, exactly, do we have, and why do we have to have him?”
Herod’s smile was triumphant. “This Issa from Nat’zeret, the rabble-rouser!”
“Ah!” said Pontius Pilatus. “Yohanan the Baptist who keeps rising from the dead to haunt you.”
” To haunt us, Equestrian. It would not benefit you if it seemed to Rome that you hold your prefecture with a weak grip.”
”I do assure you, my good king, that my grip is anything but weak. And do I also need to remind you that you, too, are nothing more than an official appointment whose position and authority devolves from the Imperator and Senate? So please tell me, what is the current situation regarding this man Issa?” Pontius Pilatus gestured toward a chair near his desk. Condescendingly, he remarked; “You may sit down.”
Herod scowled and sat down. “The Sanhedrin has set up a small committee to investigate Issa and his activities, in order to determine whether he is transgressing any law in any manner. Some of this committee are qualified priests and lawyers of the temple, who are ideally equipped to analyze his words and actions from the point of view of our religious statutes.
“However, as you have so insightfully pointed out to me on more than one occasion, we can only take legal action against Issa if it is done in accordance with Roman law. This, we are working on.
”It seems a rumor is gathering momentum amongst the proletariat that Issa is the great liberator of his country whose arrival is supposedly prophesied - the mighty bloodthirsty warrior called mashiach, a great soldier king who will lead his people to freedom, slaughtering all their enemies. You know - the usual revenge stuff.”
Pontius Pilatus stared at Herod. “Ah! This is more interesting. Now I can see your drift...”
“Exactly! If we can prove that he is claiming to be the new King of the Jewish people, then...” he trailed off.
Pontius Pilatus spoke very softly. ”...Then we can legally arrest him on a charge of seditious treason according to Roman law - a capital offence!”
Herod smiled. “I thought you would like that. And there is more.”
“Please continue” invited the Praefect with a gesture. “You now have my undivided attention.”
“We have been able to infiltrate his intimate group of companions, by employing bribery. Everyone has their price. So we now have an informer actually in his gang. All we need do now is wait until we have sufficient evidence to build a case against Issa, then arrest him.”
Pontius Pilatus leaned back in his chair. “My good King, you have now impressed me. There has to be a first time for everything! Is this informer reliable?”
“If you wish, you may judge that for yourself. I have him waiting outside now.”
Pontius Pilatus turned his head to his secretary. “Bring him in.”
Hippocrates strode to the door and left the room briefly. He retuned almost immediately leading a man towards the Praefect’s desk. The man was Issa’s helper Yehuda of Kerioth.
The Temple of Herod in Jerusalem had been built as a replacement of Solomon’s Temple destroyed by the Babylonian Empire half a thousand years previously. On this day the steps, doors and courtyard were swarming with people. Within, the huge temple was filling to capacity with many hundreds of people kneeling in rows.
Through the great open doors calmly and unexpectedly walked Issa, surrounded by a thronging crowd of admirers. Everyone already within turned their heads in some amazement. A host of whispers rose up from all quarters.
“Who is he?”
“He’s the famous teacher from Galilee!”
“I took my family to listen to him.”
“They say he’s a dangerous terrorist who deceives people with magic tricks!”
“No! He’s a good and clever man!”
“If he’s that clever, what’s he doing here then? He’ll be arrested, surely?”
As Issa reached a central area in the main aisle, he stopped and remained standing motionless, silent. Starting with a few, a growing mass of people began to move quickly to kneel in a packed circle around him, with Issa in a clear space in the middle.
A flock of several startled clerics moved quickly and quite roughly through the kneeling crowds in Issa’s direction, with grim and angry expressions. However, the density of the crowd still gathering around Issa slowed them down and then obliged them to stop altogether. One particular cleric did not give up so easily. He continued to stubbornly push his way closer to where Issa was standing, roughly shoving kneeling people aside and forcing his way forward, disregarding the angry cries of those he was handling so harshly. His expression was one of utter fury.
Suddenly, Issa cried out in a loud voice that echoed within the vast building. “You know me, all right! And you know what I teach! I have not come here for any reasons of my own, but to teach the word of the light of God, which you do not yet know!”
At this point, the furious cleric came within several feet of where Issa stood. He could not get any further through the tightly packed people clustering immediately around Issa. The cleric, with a ferocious expression of hatred on his face, stretched his right arm forward dramatically and pointed accusingly at Issa with a hand trembling with rage.
“Blasphemer!” he screamed. “Wicked liar! Fraud! Evil deceiver! Keep silent! How dare you try to corrupt the people with your falsehoods!”
Issa stared at the cleric. “Then answer me this. Is it God’s law in this Temple to do good, or to do evil? To save lives, or to destroy them? To speak about the word of God, or to keep silent? To teach and learn, or to dwell forever in darkness?”
Issa looked around at the crowd. Utter silence had descended. The cleric had no answer. He stood, still furious, hand still pointed trembling at Issa. After a moment, Issa spoke loudly at him. “Take back your hand before you shake it off your arm!” A gust of laughter washed across the crowd. The cleric was suddenly deflated. He lowered his arm in uncertainty and began to back-off.
Issa, looking round at the huge crowd, spoke loudly with a ringing voice. “If any person thirsts to understand the enlightenment of God, let them come to me and drink of it! Those who want to hear what I teach shall thirst for enlightenment, and they will come to the waters of God that are without price.
“I do not speak about the laws made by men, which are born of our avarice, our fears, our intolerance, our greed, our hatred, and which punish, imprison and execute! I speak about the laws made by God which bring light into this world, which shines upon all of us equally if we only open our hearts and minds to its presence! All we need to do is recognize it! Those who follow my teaching shall no longer live in blindness with their eyes shut, but shall see and understand the light of God.
“It is not difficult to understand. It works like this. If a woman is accused of infidelity, the law demands that she be stoned to death. But if a man looks at a woman and imagines his lust upon her in his thoughts, is he not also practicing infidelity in his heart?
”I say to you all; let him among you who has never had any wicked thought in his head throw that first stone!
“It is necessary to know, and understand, our own weaknesses, and to allow the light of God to shine into our hearts to expose our own sins to us before we accuse any other of sinning. Otherwise, we are nothing but hypocrites! Do you not see?
“Who commits the greater wrong - the prostitute, or the men who pay her? If there were no payments from men, there would be no prostitutes. Who, then, commits the worst sin?
“It is not the natural things we do that are sinful, for this is the way God made us. Our sin is what grows in our minds which makes us resent what others do, what others think, and what others may believe, and which makes us blind to our own faults yet always ready to condemn the faults of others!”
Issa stoped speaking and lowered his head. People near the edge of the crowd start talking to each other in stage whispers in the sudden silence.
“It is true! He is a prophet!” said a woman in amazement.
“This is the anointed one of God!” exclaimed a man.
“But he comes from Nat’zeret!” argued another. “The anointed one is not supposed to come from Nat’zeret. The scriptures say he must come from King David’s town, Bet-le’chem!”
“Perhaps he does. Maybe he was born there. Does it matter? I understand what he is saying. That is what matters!”
“I think he must be sent to us by God!”
“Are the clerics going to let him get away with this?”
By the side wall inside the huge temple there was a sound of many running feet. Fifteen Levite guards with their captain could be seen running from the top end of the Temple along the side wall where there was a path clear of people. The running guards stopped as they drew level with Issa, who remained standing in the centre of the great floor surrounded by a sea of sitting and kneeling people. However, the guards and their captain remained motionless at the side-wall and did not make any attempt to wade through the crowd to approach Issa.
An echoing silence descended upon the entire Temple. Several splendidly-dressed senior priests and clerics could be seen hurrying down the same clear path which the guards used and halting beside the guards. One of the senior priests spoke angrily to the Guard Captain,
“Why have you not arrested that man?”
The captain of the Levite guards answered without taking his eyes off the distant Issa. “With respect, Holiness, we have been ordered not to harm him or interfere with what he does. We have been ordered to watch over him and protect him if any trouble starts.”
The senior priest was astonished. “Who gave you this order?”
Before the Captain of the Guard could reply, another of the senior priests stepped forward. It was Jairus. He spoke calmly.
“I did. I believe he speaks nothing but the truth, and people should be allowed to listen to him without any interference. It was I who invited him to come here and speak to the people.”
The other priests and clerics look astounded at this. The senior priest spluttered incredulously. “What? Has he pulled the wool over your eyes too? Are you also deceived by him?” Angrily he pointed at the crowds. “The only people who believe what he says are those ignorant simpletons who have not been educated in the chapter and verse of holy law and are therefore cursed by God!”
Mildly, Jairus asked; “Have you ever listened to what he has to say?”
The senior priest scowled. “Certainly not! I would cover my ears if I came close enough to hear him speak his blasphemies.”
Jairus looked into the senior priest’s eyes. “Do you, then, judge a man’s words when you have never heard him speak, Caiaphus?”
“Are you one of his followers?” asked Caiaphus the senior priest suspiciously.
“How can I answer that, if you do not know what is being followed?” Jairus turned to the captain of the guard and pointed at Issa. “He has finished speaking. Captain, you and your men have your orders.”
Immediately, the guard captain led his fifteen temple guards carefully through the kneeling and sitting crowd until they made a ring surrounding Issa. Then, to the astonishment of the senior priests and clerics watching from the side, Issa started to walk slowly and carefully toward the main door of the Temple, and the guards moved with him, escorting him and gently encouraging the crowd to move aside and form a clear avenue. As Issa walked silently through the crowd, many of the people he passes reached out and touched his robe hesitantly in a silent expression of support and approval.
Now it was night. A furtive figure came into view round a corner and skulked along the sandy dirt road. It was Issa’s helper Shim’on the Rebel. He passed silently down the street towards another shadowy figure on a far corner who started to urgently beckon him on. When Shim’on the Rebel reached the other person, who was Andreas, both of them disappeared together round the corner. The two men, running cautiously and looking about themselves, reached a large house. Cautiously, Andreas gave three sharp double-knocks on a stout wooden door. After a slight pause, the door was opened a crack from within and a man’s voice spoke gruffly through it.
“Who knocks, and why?”
Andreas spoke quickly. “I am brother to the Rock, and I bring the one who is called the Rebel, and you are Nayhor, whose house this is.”
There was the sound of a heavy object inside being dragged away from the door and it opened wide enough to admit Andreas, then Shim’on the Rebel. They disappeared inside, the door was slammed shut and the same heavy object was dragged back across it.
A large upper room was lit by candles and oil lamps. Andreas and Shim’on the Rebel entered. Issa and the other ten helpers were already there, sitting or kneeling on the floor, on mats and rugs, around a very low table. On the table was one large bowl containing Matzah bread. There were also jugs of wine and enough goblets. Kneeling beside Issa closely was Miriam of Migdal. Also kneeling alone elsewhere in room was her sister Marta. As Andreas and Shim’on the Rebel walked into the room, Issa stood up and embraced them, asking; “You had no trouble on your way?”
“Nothing!” exclaimed Shimon the Rebel. “I followed Andreas and we kept out of sight. Nobody saw us. Everything is quiet.”
Issa nodded and knelt down again beside Miriam of Migdal while Andreas and Shim’on the Rebel also found spaces and knelt on mats, sharing muttered greetings with the rest of the helpers.
Issa spoke so that all could hear. ”I am glad you all managed to find the right house safely. I’m sorry you could not know where it was until tonight, but we all need to be careful. The city is crowded during the P’t’shka and there are eyes and ears everywhere.” He took hold of Miriam’s hand and gently squeezed it. She smiled. He continued.
“I wanted us all to share this P’t’shka - the first where all of us can celebrate it together. It means a lot to me.” There was a general quiet murmur of agreement from everyone.
“I hope it will not be the last,” said Shimon Cephas cheerfully.
Mirium of Migdal rose and filled a goblet with wine, passing it to Issa, who raised it in both hands before his eyes. He stared at it for a moment before speaking again.
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine, who sanctified us with His commandments, and gives us love and times of joy, and gives us the Festival of unleavened bread in remembrance of our freedom from bondage and the Exodus from Egypt when the Angel of Death passed over. Blessed are you, God, who sanctifies this P’t’shka with love.” He took a sip, then offered the goblet to Shim’on Cephas. “Take a drink and pass it on. Then, whenever you drink wine in your lives, think of us all together here tonight.”
The helpers started passing the cup from one to the other and drinking a little from it. Issa then reached into the bowl and took out a few of the round Matzah cakes. He started breaking them into pieces and passing them round to the others, standing up to do so.
”Each year at the P’t’shka, remember me and what I have taught you, and wherever we have all ended up in the world, I shall be with you again in your hearts and thoughts at that moment.”
Issa knelt down in front of Shim’on Cephas with a wide grin.”My Rock! My wonderful Rock! You have questioned everything and always said to me “Show me how this may be done.” And that is how wisdom is learned.
“I’m afraid, my friend, that you have now become wise yourself. Do not fear it! Share it with the others - add your great strength to them.”
There was a round of quiet laughter in the room at this, in which Shim’on Cephas joined in sheepishly. While everyone was looking at Shimon Cephas, the expression of Yehuda of Kerioth was momentarily uncomfortable and his eyes were lowered.
The evening had been warm and Issa and his helpers together with Miriam of Migdal and Marta were taking a stroll in the night air. They talked together quietly and walked slowly. They were in a public garden where some ancient trees grew and flowering shrubs could be seen in the daytime. At night, other plants released soft and fragrant scents.
Unseen in the darkness, a dozen stealthy figures moved cautiously through the bushes and olive trees. A few dozen feet away several more dim figures also crept slowly but resolutely forward.
Issa and his companions suddenly become aware that a large number of people had surrounded them in the darkness. Shadowy figures could be seen taking up an encircling position in the bushes and trees and drawing quietly ever closer. Issa and the others stood looking around uncertainly. The ring of men begins to close in.
Suddenly Yehuda of Kerioth dropped unexpectedly onto one knee beside Issa, grabbing Issa’s hand and kissing it. At this instant, the loud voice of Caiaphas shouted out; “That’s the man!” Caiaphas and several other priests and clerics strode quickly forward.
The surrounding men ran forward en masse. As they approached, it could be seen in the dark that they were a large number of Levite Temple Guards, some bearing swords but the majority bearing wooden staves. Those with swords rapidly surrounded Issa and the still-kneeling Yehuda of Kerioth, while those with staves roughly enclosed all the others in a tight cordon. Yehuda of Kerioth then stood up and started to back away cautiously through the circle of guards, who allowed him to pass through.
Issa stared questioningly at Yehuda of Kerioth. “Yehuda - you betray me with a kiss?”
Suddenly and unexpectedly Shim’on Cephas swung his arm and punched the nearest temple guard, sending him staggering to fall on the ground. He then lunged towards the guards surrounding Issa and grappled with one of them, wrenching the sword from him. Issa held up a hand to stop him.
“Peace, my Rock, peace! Give the man his sword back. Anger is never an answer, and violence only breeds violence. Those who live by the sword will also one day die by it!”
With obvious reluctance, Shim’on Cephas handed back the sword to its owner and retreated, glowering, back into the cordon he has just broken out of. Caiaphas walked forward to look at Issa. He smiled maliciously. Issa spoke to him. “You had to come out in the night with men, swords and staves to seize me? You could have done it more easily when I stood alone in the Temple, yet there you looked on, doing nothing. It seems you prefer to hide under a cloak of darkness! Tell me - what law have I broken?”
One of the clerics who stood with Caiaphas spoke up uncertainly. “He has broken no law of Rome that will permit us to execute him. We are not permitted under Roman law to execute someone who only breaks our religious law.”
Another of the clerics answered the speaker angrily. “What do you suggest? This man speaks against us and against what we do and how we do it, openly, to great crowds of people. If we do nothing, everybody will believe him. If that happens, we will loose everything.”
Caiaphas looked at his clerics with some contempt. “You know nothing at all of those who exercise power! The Praefect will agree it is politically expedient that one man should die in order to ensure peace. This man Issa is a rabble-rouser, a rebel, a charlatan – he misleads the ordinary people and tries to turn them against everything we believe in – and he defies Rome! He will be officially executed under Roman law! Our hands will be clean!”
He turned to the guards and spoke casually. “Bind him and bring him! Let the others go – they are insignificant.”
Early next morning Pontius Pilatus was sitting behind his great desk. His secretary Hippocrates was sitting on a stool attending him. Pontius Pilatus signed a parchment and handed it to Hippocrates, who added it to a pile on his lap. There was a knock at the door and it immediately opened. A centurion walked into the office and gave a Roman salute with an outstretched arm and hand.
“You have some early visitors, Excellency. It is Caiaphas, the new Supreme High Priest of the Temple, with some of his fellow high priests and a prisoner under guard.”
“Their guards, or our guards, Primus?” enquired the Praefect.
“Their own Temple Guards, Excellency.”
Pontius Pilatus sighed deeply, shrugged at his secretary and carefully laid down his stylus. “That means it’s going to be something local and complicated. All right, admit them - respectfully, Primus.”
The centurion saluted again and left the room. Moments later he came back leading Caiaphas, half a dozen robed priests, and several clerics. Behind these came six of the Levite Temple guards, unarmed, bringing with them Issa, who looked much the same as the night before, except that his hands were tied behind his back. He had not been visibly mistreated.
The deputation stopped in front of the big desk and Caiaphas bowed his head to the Prefect. Then he held his hand out to indicate Issa standing behind him. ”Behold! The man.”
The Praefect cast his gaze over the whole assembly. ”Which man do I behold, Caiaphas?”
“The self-proclaimed King of the Jews, Issa of Nat’zeret, Excellency. He who scoffs at our laws, perverts our religion and says that he is our rightful king, not Herod who was appointed by the authority of Rome.”
Pontius Pilatus stared into Caiaphas’ eyes. “Ah! The late Yohanan the Baptist, risen from the dead to pester you again, so I am led to believe. Let him stand before me.”
Two of the Temple guards lead Issa to stand in front of the Prefect’s desk. The two guards then stood menacingly either side of Issa. Pontius Pilatus made a gesture at them as though he were flitting away flies.
“There is no need to guard him quite so closely. There are six hundred legionaries garrisoned in this fort, and we are on the fifth floor of a fortified tower. If anybody can single-handedly fight their way out of here with their hands tied behind their back, I myself will crown them king of wherever they like!”
The guards glanced apologetically at Caiaphas and quickly stepped back to rejoin their fellows behind the priests. Pontius Pilatus studied Issa carefully for a long moment.
“Are you claiming to be the King of the Jews?”
“They say this thing - not I!”
“He denies it,” stated the Praefect mildly. “Has he robbed anybody? Has he killed anyone? Is he in the process of raising an army, or is he in league with rebel terrorists?”
Caiaphas looked angry but remained silent.
The Praefect waved his hand dismissively. “Then I find no fault in this man. Release him.”
“Wherever he goes, he stirs the people up, saying that all people should follow his law, and not the rightful law,” fumed Caiaphas.
Pontius Pilatus lowered his voice menacingly. “I’ll tell you what, then - you take him away and judge him according to your rightful law. This is a purely civil matter, not a military one! Please do not waste any more of my valuable time on the matter!”
“But we are not permitted to put any man to death for breaking our law,” protested Caiaphas. “Only the law of Rome can pronounce a death sentence.”
“Then be content to just give him a beating and let him go.”
“We must have a death sentence!”
The Praefect sighed. “Do I take it, then, that you are demanding of me a full official legal hearing - a prosecution according to the laws of Rome? Please think carefully before you answer!”
Caiaphas answered immediately. “That is what we ask for!”
The Praefect sighed irritably. He turned to his secretary. “Hippocrates, kindly go and have the tribunal room opened and made ready.”
Hippocrates immediately rose to his feet and walked out of the big room. The Praefect turned back to the parchments on his desk, sat down and lowered his head to read them. Without raising his gaze from the desktop, he spoke dismissively. “If you speak to the centurion outside my office door, he will have someone conduct you to the Military Tribunal rooms elsewhere in this fort. I will be there in another hour to assess the case and make an official judgment according to Roman law. You are dismissed.”
There was a pause for a moment, then he added; “And please take your king with you!”
He waved his visitors away with the back of his hand. The assembled priests and clerics were speechless with anger, but sullenly obeyed.
In the Antonia Fortress there was a small Roman-style courtroom that was more usually employed for trying legionaries who had transgressed the military rules or had disobeyed orders. The courtroom and several adjacent rooms which served it were below ground level for coolness and a small natural stream flowed into one of the annexes immediately outside the courtroom proper where the fresh water poured into an ornamental marble basin.
Hippocrates the secretary was alone in the courtroom, sitting on a bench below the judge’s podium reading parchments. Pontius Pilatus entered through a small private rear door and swept his gaze around the empty room. He looked at Hippocrates.
“Have you summoned them in?”
“They won’t come in,” stated Hippocrates flatly.
Pontius Pilatus held his hands high in a gesture of frustration. “Why not?”
Morosely the secretary answered. “They say they are not permitted by their religion to do any work on a Sabbath. And they say that entering an official courtroom and participating in a trial is classed as work.”
Exasperated, Pontius Pilatus sat down beside Hippocrates on the clerk’s lowly bench, shaking his head. He sighed wearily. “Hippocrates, you could write a new Greek comedy about this. Where are the priests now?”
Hippocrates sighed in frustration. “They are all waiting outside in the antechamber. They say they will conduct their part of the proceedings from out there. They say that doesn’t count as work, only as discussion!”
The Praefect rose, clapping Hippocrates on the back. “This is going to be one of those days, Hippocrates. Let’s get it over and done with.”
Hippocrates also stood up. “Then you are going to do as they ask?”
”I have been charged by the Senate and Imperator to maintain order and peace in this praefecture. To do this, we must properly respect the local religions and traditions. In far lands, there may even be some who consider the customs of Rome to be strange!”
“For the sake of making things proceed, with your permission I could stand at the main doorway and act as an intermediary, telling you what they say, and telling them what you say?”
“Thank you Hippocrates, but no. This whole business is already farcical enough. I shall join them in the waiting room and conduct the trial there.”
“But your dignity, my lord...?”
“I have learned the hard way that there is no such thing as dignity in politics.”
The Praefect walked through the empty tribunal room to the main door arch. Hippocrates followed. Outside the arch, in a waiting room, were standing the same priests, clerics and guards, and Issa with his hands tied behind his back. A small spout sent a stream of clean water into a nearby drinking fountain.
Hippocrates looked enquiringly at the Praefect, who nodded at him. The secretary shouted; “Senatus Populusque Romana versus Issa the Nat’zerene.”
“What accusation is brought against this man?” asked Pontius Pilatus formally.
“If he wasn’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of bringing him here!” answered one of the clerics sourly.
Hippocrates raised his arm angrily and pointed at the cleric. “Have a care. You must show respect to the Praefectus - this is now a duly convened court of Roman law, and he carries the authority of a judge. Or do you enjoy being whipped for insolence?”
Pontius Pilatus waved a calming hand at the priests. “Just wait here - please. You told me the charge earlier.” He pointed at Issa. “You, come with me!”
The Praefect led Issa into the tribunal room. He gestured that Issa sit on a bench, then the Praefect sat beside him. Issa’s hands remained tied behind his back. “Are you claiming to be the king of the Jewish people?” the Praefect asked bluntly.
Issa looked at him. “I claim nothing. You ask this because they told you this about me, not because I say it for myself.”
“Your own countrymen, the chief priests, have asked me to judge you. Please help me to understand - I am not Jewish, I don’t know all your religious customs. What have you done?”
“I have tried to show them what they are doing wrong.”
Pontius Pilatus sighed. “Oh dear - no wonder they don’t like you! Why do they say you claim to be a king?”
”If I am a king, I am no king of this world. If I were a king, I would have many beneath me who would fight to prevent me being taken captive. I have never called myself a king, nor asked any other to do so. I proclaim only the truth of God.”
The Praefect looked at him and raised one eyebrow. “Truth? What is truth? Truth is whatever lie causes people the least problems. Wait here.”
The Praefect stood up and walked back to the priests in the anteroom. “You have brought this man to me, claiming that he turns your people against the law of Rome. Well, I have questioned him myself, and I find no fault in him - he has not done what you accuse him of! I am going to caution him and release him.”
“He should be executed,” argued Caiphas. “We, too, have our laws, and under our law he should die because he blasphemes against God, and there is no doubt that he also raises multitudes, as though trying to make himself a king among men.”
Caiaphas gently took the Praefect’s arm, turning them both conspiratorially away from all the others so that nobody else could hear. ”If you let this man go, it might be said by some that you are not Kaiser’s man. Whoever sets themselves up at the head of a multitude is making themselves a king. Whoever makes themselves a king acts against Teeberius Kaiser and Rome.
“If you free him, we would be within our rights as Roman citizens to make an official complaint to the Imperator regarding your own conduct in this matter, perhaps also indicating a certain... shall we say… unwillingness, on your part to stamp out the seeds of rebellion?”
Pontius Pilatus glared at Caiaphas. Then he glanced at Hippocrates, who raised his eyebrows and slowly nodded, confirming the veracity of what the High Priest had said.
“You have one custom which I know well,” stated the Praefect. “At the P’t’shka your tradition is that a single prisoner is pardoned, regardless of what crime they have committed, to commemorate the freeing of your ancestors from their captivity in Egypt. Now - think on this, Caiaphas, and think on it deeply.
“I hold Barabbas the terrorist in the dungeons. He has made a real insurrection, and has committed murder many times, both of Romans and Jews, and Greeks too. He, also, has a great following among the general public, and he has taken up arms against Rome - always a capital offence. He was to be shipped off to Rome for the Imperator himself to condemn him to death.
“I will honour you tradition. I will pardon one of the prisoners, either Barabbas the vicious terrorist and committer of atrocities, or Issa whom you say calls himself king yet he says he does not. This will be my final word on the matter.”
The Praefect turned to face all the assembled priests and clerics. “Make your choice! Whom shall I pardon? The innocent man, or the guilty man? Who gets pardoned - Issa or Barabbas?”
The assembled clergy spoke loudly with one voice. “Barabbas!”
Pontius Pilatus stared daggers at them, as though they had slapped his face. His expression showed a moment of unconcealed anger. Then he strode forward, barging through the startled priests and clerics as though they were a mere crowd in the street. He walked briskly towards the water fountain and rinsed his hands.
“I am innocent of the blood of this man Issa!” he stated loudly and bitterly.
There was a deep hole dug in the ground. There was a sound of irregular creaking of ropes. A shadow fell across the hole. A stout wooden beam plunged down into the hole, impacting with a thud. There was a single scream of agony, followed by many other voices screaming from a distance. A spatter of blood hit the ground.
At the edge of a nearby dirt road a small crowd of people looked on with raised heads. The crowd consisted of all Issa’s helpers except Yehuda of Kerioth, and included Miriam of Migdal and Marta, Issa’s mother Miriam, his four brothers and three sisters, and several other people. Most of them were screaming or crying in anguish.
Rising before the small crowd was a low hill named Gulgoleth, which meant “The place of the skull”, so called because the rounded rock formation at the top of the rise was remarkably like a huge skull with three small caves that looked like empty eye and nose sockets. It was by tradition the place of execution for the region. Near the top of the mound could be seen nine execution crosses, six of them empty of victims. There were three, however, in an untidy row with men impaled upon them. This was a foreign punishment used mainly by the Romans and introduced to lands they had occupied. It was not a method of execution, for although death was usually the result, it was intended to be a method of torture in which the victim would continue to live, sometimes for many days, depending upon their strength and fortitude. From the Latin word for “crucifying” came a new Latin term for torture – ex cruciating.
Now it was evening, eight hours later, an hour before midnight. The night was dark and quiet. Even the groaning and gasping of the three crucified victims had ceased. However, there was the faint sound of someone breathing rapidly and irregularly. The breathing slowly changed, becoming slow and methodical, controlled and quiet.
At sunrise the next day two men approached Gulgoleth. One was Yusuf of Ar’Ramatha, a wealthy-looking Judean merchant in expensive garments. The other was Jairus the High Priest of the Temple and member of the Sanhedrin. They looked round cautiously, but all other people had gone. They reached the cross on which Issa was impaled and stared up at him.
Jairus spoke bitterly. “We are too late! He is dead. He is not breathing.”
Yusuf of ar’Ramatha reached up and touched Issa’s bare legs at the back of the knees. He gazed at Issa’s head. “No, my friend,” he whispered. “He still lives. His flesh is still a little warm after a cold night. I can feel a pulse, very faint, but I still feel it.”
Jairus, too, placed his fingers at the back of Issa’s knee. “By all the prophets, Yusuf – you are right!”
There came a low groan from nearby. “It is as I told you,” stated Yusuf. “The poor sods who were crucified with him are also still alive. They are robbers, and we cannot help them. But we can help him, I think. I have travelled the world widely on many business trips, and I have seen this before - this thing that he is doing.”
“Please,” asked Jairus, “tell me your thoughts.”
“He has used a method of controlled breathing to place himself in a trance. It is quite a common technique in the eastern lands, in India. This slows the heartbeat, which in turn slows bleeding from wounds. His legs are locked straight, which is also important. If the legs of a victim do not support them, the torso and neck slump and the victim eventually dies of asphyxiation. He knew what he was doing.”
“We must act quickly,” exclaimed Jairus.
Yusuf looked him in the eyes. “May God be with us! I shall make my arrangements while you make yours.”
Some time later in the same day Jairus walked boldly through the main gates of the Antonia Fortress. Now he was wearing the full robes of a High Priest of the Temple. The guards on duty admitted him without question. After climbing several flights of stairs he was admitted by more guards into the office of Pontius Pilatus. He approached the Praefect, who sat at his desk. His secretary Hippocrates was sitting at his normal place, various documents on his lap. Jairus halted before the desk.
“Thank you for seeing me at such short notice, your Excellency.”
Pontius Pilatus smiled slightly. ”It is pleasant to be confronted by a respectful priest. Usually, it seems, I have the unfailing ability to rub them up the wrong way.”
Jairus also smiled. “I am a calm and straightforward man, Excellency. I come with only one reasonable request.”
”If it is reasonable, consider it granted. What do you ask?”
“Simply this. Of the three criminals who were crucified yesterday evening, one of them appears to have died. I therefore merely seek your permission to have the body of the dead criminal taken down before nightfall and buried, according to our custom.”
Pontius Pilatus leaned back in his chair and stared at Jairus reflectively. Then he smiled very slightly. Casually he asked; “This criminal - he wouldn’t be from Nat’zeret by any chance, would he?”
Equally casual, Jairus shrugged ingenuously and replied; “I suppose he might be. Criminals can come from any town.”
The Praefect’s smile widened. “Then I think it expedient that we talk no more on this. Yes, you have my permission to remove the body. “
Jairus bowed his head respectfully, turned and walked away. After he had taken half a dozen steps, the Prefect spoke to his back very quietly. “And Jairus…?”
Jairus stoped, but did not turn round.
“If you discover this man is indeed from Nat’zeret, then you have the gratitude of a Roman Praefect for lifting a great weight from his conscience.”
Jairus walked on and left the room.
Two Roman soldiers approached the place of executions. One of them carried a stout wooden pole some seven feet in length. They came to a halt in front of one of the crucifixions. The soldier with the long pole began to heft it in his hands, testing the weight and balance. His colleague stopped him by grasping the pole. “You did it yesterday. It’s my turn today.” His colleague did not argue but handed the pole to him.
The other soldier hefted the pole and tested his grip and balance. Satisfied, he gazed thoughtfully at the robber on the cross who was groaning weakly and only semi-conscious. The soldier flexed his shoulders and gazed thoughtfully at the man on the cross, who was groaning and only semi-conscious. Then he flexed his shoulders and squared up with the staff, swinging it to gauge its weight and his grip and glancing backwards and forwards from the staff to the crucified man. He looked like he was enjoying himself. He brought the staff swinging fast with all his strength and it struck the knees of the victim with an extremely loud and crunching bang. There was a piercing scream, then silence for several seconds before a horrible gurgling sound which slowly faded.
“Both kneecaps in one blow! Good shot!” commented the other soldier admiringly. Satisfied with the result, they strolled towards Issa’s cross. The soldier carrying the staff eyed Issa speculatively, then pointed to the top of the cross. “Look at that.” A piece of parchment had been nailed there with the words ‘SALUTANT JUDAICA REX’ clumsily written in both Hebrew characters and in Latin. The soldier spat, hefting the staff. “I’ll salute him all right!”
Just as he said this, Jairus and Yusuf of ar’Ramatha, who now carried a short ladder, appeared walking out of the gathering gloom in the middle distance. Jairus called to the soldiers in a friendly manner. “ You don’t need to do that one. He is already dead. We are here to remove any corpses before nightfall, according to our custom. It’s a Sabbath, isn’t it lads? You know how it works with dead bodies on a Sabbath.”
“Already dead?” repeated the soldier doubtfully. “Who are you, and how do you know this?”
Yusuf of Ar’Ramatha replied in an easy manner. “We were here just now - before you arrived - we examined the bodies. We just went for a piss in the bushes. My name is Yusuf of ar’Ramatha.”
“And I, my friends, am Jairus, a High Priest of the Temple. We have the authority of Pontius Pilatus to be here and tidy up. Go on to the next criminal. We’ll take this one away ourselves, then we’ll come back for the others when you’ve finished killing them.”
The other soldier grinned. “You’re burying him first because he’s your king, eh?”
“Something like that,” smiled Jairus at the man.
The first soldier shrugged. “Go ahead. We’ll make a start on the other one.”
Jairus and Yusuf of ar’Ramatha cut the ropes securing Issa’s legs. Yusuf placed the short ladder against the back of the cross and climbed up it to attend to freeing the arms. Very carefully they pulled the large nails from the wood using gripping tongs. As they started cutting the arm ropes, there was the same sound nearby of an extremely loud crunching bang followed by a dreadful scream, then a slow quiet gurgle.
The Mount of Olives was a necropolis of tombs, some magnificent, some ordinary, some mere plots marked out by lines of rocks. Night had now fallen and Jairus and Yusuf of ar’Ramatha carefully carried Issa, wrapped in a plain cloth, using the ladder as a stretcher. They approached a rather magnificent rock-cut tomb. Waiting for them in the shadows was Nechunya, Jairus’ fifteen year-old nephew.
“We have him,” Jairus told the lad. “Have you seen anyone suspicious?”
“People pass by in the road, but nobody has entered the cemetery so far.”
Jairus nodded. “Please keep watch. Cry out if anyone comes near.”
The tomb had an open stone door. The two men carried Issa inside the tomb while Nechunya kept watch outside.”
Yusuf of ar’Ramatha struck flints and lit a small oil lamp which could not be seen from outside because the passage turned a corner. They gently unwrapped the blanket and knelt to examine Issa. Yusuf of ar’Ramatha put his ear to Issa’s chest. “His heart still beats. He is breathing, but so shallow it cannot be noticed.”
“We cannot leave him here for long,” pondered Jairus. “Word of our actions might reach the Temple, and my superior Caiaphas will smell a rat.”
Yusuf grinned and shrugged. “He will smell two rats - you and me! And night has fallen, which means both of us have now done work on the Sabbath! We are already damned! I will summon some of my servants. We can take him to my country estate at Hammat. I have my own physician there who can attend to the wounds.”
“I will ask my nephew to stand watch here tonight,” said Jairus. If the Teacher’s family and friends come in the morning looking for the body, he can tell them he is not dead and has been taken to a ‘safe house’ for recovery and convalescence.”
Pontius Pilatus was standing facing the window behind his huge desk, admiring the beautiful sunrise. A centurion had already opened the door to admit Caiaphas and several other clerics. They walked down the length of the room towards the Praefect, who remained with his back turned to them, gazing out of the window.
Without turning round, keeping his back to the visitors, he spoke to them amiably. “Caiaphas. I wish you a very good morning. Let’s see what you can do to spoil it.”
Caiaphas replied angrily. “My Lord Praefect, we have heard that the blasphemous deceiver Issa of Nat’zeret did not have his legs broken as is required, and we now fear that he was not dead but in a faint, and is yet alive. I ask you to send out soldiers to question people so that we may discover where he has been taken and have him properly executed!”
Still deliberately keeping his back to the High Priest, the Praefect commented mildly; “We Romans usually only have to execute people once! There must be something in the soil of this land - it keeps kicking people back out when you try to bury them!”
Caiaphas was furious. “The error must be rectified. Will you send out soldiers?”
Pontius Pilatus refused to rise to the bait. He remained calm and urbane. He continued to keep his back to the High Priest. “As far as I am concerned, the records show that the man Issa was tried and executed according to the laws of Rome. That is entirely adequate. That is sufficient for my purposes. As far as I am concerned, Caiaphas, this matter is now closed - permanently closed! If you trouble me with it again, I might start thinking that you yourself are an even greater problem.” He paused for a moment, then: “I do hope you get my drift.”
Caiaphas and his deputation, thunderstruck, stormed out in silent fury.
Pontius Pilatus turned to watch their retreating backs. He slowly smiled in triumph, raising his right index finger, licking its tip and making a quick stroke in the air, as though marking up an invisible score on a blackboard. Then he turned back to resume looking out of the window.
Time went by. Six months after Caiaphas had swept out of the Praefect’s office like a thunderstorm there was a meeting of people at the edge of the desert, where sparse vegetation grew. A saddled camel lay patiently on the ground. Jairus’ young nephew Nechunya and Pontius Pilatus’ Greek secretary Hippocrates were busy attaching water bags and other items to the camel. Two loaded pack-ponies stood quietly nearby, both with long leading-reins tied to the camel’s strappings. Issa was standing near the camel, watching the preparations.
Then he turned and walked towards a small crowd of people who were assembling. All his chosen helpers were there, except for the traitor Yehuda of Kerioth who had been ostracized. Jairus the High Priest was there, with Yusuf of ar’Ramatha, Issa’s mother Miriam, his four brothers and three sisters, Shimon Cephas’ wife Berenike and his mother-in-law Ariella, Levi Matit-Yahu’s wife Bithiah and several other people who approved of Issa’s doctrine and activities. Standing prominently at the front of the group was Shim’on the Rebel with his two sisters Marta and Miriam of Migdal.
Issa came to a halt in front of the small crowd of well-wishers. He spoke with a voice tinged with sorrow. “I must depart - it is not safe for me in Judea. The rulers of the Temple suspect that I still live, and they continue seeking for me.”
Issa approached Shim’on Cephas. “Shim’on, son of Yonas, my strong Rock - do you love me?”
Shim’on Cephas grasped Issa and hugged him tightly. His face was streaked with tears. “Master - Friend - Brother - you know that I love you.”
Issa smiled at him and lightly punched his arm. “Then be a good shepherd to our sheep. It is all of you who will be left here to spread the word of enlightenment, as I have taught you.”
Issa then hugged his mother and brothers and sisters, and after the flowing of tears he went to Jairus and hugged him. “I wish you had chosen to join us in the Great Temple,” said Jairus. “I will try to cleanse it on my own.”
Issa smiled at him. “There will be many others who will be pleased to help you with this. Be assured, my friend – you will not be on your own!”
Issa walked to where Shim’on the Rebel and his sisters stood. He took the hand of Miriam of Migdal and they smiled at each other. Then they kissed passionately. The two of them walked hand-in-hand to the waiting camel where Issa helped her up onto the saddle. Issa climbed up and sat behind her, so that she was nestled in his lap. He put one arm round her waist and took the reins in his other hand.
Nechunya waved his arms at the camel’s head and shouted: “Hut-hut-hut-hut-hut!” The camel lurched to its feet and strode forward. The two loaded pack-horses followed on their leading-reins. Issa called back to the watching people:
“Remember, I am with you always, even though I journey to the ends of the world.”
The camel and horses plodded away towards the wavering horizon, getting smaller as they went and flickering in the mirage of bright sunlight until they vanished.
Brother Nacca Sutta continued reading out the final words of the final scroll. “…And he went forth into the heights that are to the east of the Sea of Galilee in the region of Golan in Manasseh, which is beyond the Jordan, and continued into the East of the world, and we saw him no more, and no man knew where he went.
“And we returned to Jerusalem with great sadness and great joy, and we went forth and preached everywhere according to the teachings of Issa.
“And there were also many other things which Issa did, which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. So mote it be!”
Nicolas Notovitch sat motionless, seemingly stunned. Brother Nacca Sutta carefully rolled up the final scroll and replaced it in its box. They both sat in silence for a long moment.
“Learning can sometimes be a painful process,” remarked Brother Nacca Sutta. Notovitch remained motionless and silent for a few more moments, staring into space. Then he whispered;
“So is birth a painful process. Yet if we are not born, we are nothing.” He paused for a long moment. “When I get back to Paris, I will have it published. I would not have this knowledge lost to the world.”
“It is not lost. It is merely waiting,” said Brother Nacca Sutta quietly.
“All right,” said Notovitch, “what is it waiting for?”
Brother Nacca Sutta sighed patiently. ”It is waiting for the world to catch up with it. Those who first told that the world was round and not flat were persecuted and some were burned at the stake for heresy. Yet they told the truth. But it was not the truth for which the world was ready at that time.”
“Should people prefer to worship their myths rather than reality?” asked Notovitch bitterly. “Is it not wisdom to give people knowledge?”
“Knowledge and wisdom are not always the same thing. Knowledge is how a man learns to fire a rifle; wisdom is when he does not fire it!” He paused and smiled. “However, you are my good friend, you are my brother, and I can see that you are already fully committed to your path. Therefore, I will write a new scroll for you in French - to do with as you think wise.”
Brother Nacca Sutta reached out a hand and grasped Notovitch’s arm. “But the day will come, Nicolas, when you will see that what people need to know and what people wish to know are two entirely different things!”
Paris,1890. Nicolas Notovitch in immaculate clothes and top hat walked along the Rue du Mail near the Bourse. He carried an attaché case. The roads were filled with horse-drawn vehicles and bicycles and many pedestrians. He entered the front door of smart business premises. A sign painted on the ground floor window in gold nouveau lettering read: ÉDITEUR INTERNATIONAL. Beside this in the bustling street was a large shop window in which could be seen a display of many copies of the same book. A large display sign bore the text of an advertisement; “SENSATIONNEL! MAGNIFIQUE NOUVEAU LIVRE! LA VIE INCONNUE DE JESUS CHRIST (Par Nicolas Notovitch)”
After a few moments a brick was suddenly lobbed through the glass by an unseen person in the crowd, shattering the window and knocking down the sign. Startled shop staff inside gasped and looked out in consternation.
A few hours later, after the publisher’s meeting had ended, Notovitch strode home. He walked round a corner into a cul-de-sac and stopped in his tracks. In the cul-de-sac were some thirty people, men and women. Some of them were holding placards on poles. They were listening to a man standing on a wooden box who was shouting at them. The man was waving a book. There was a workman’s brazier containing smoldering coals set on the pavement beside him. The man’s voice was harsh and strident.
“This is not what decent people should have to tolerate! This sort of blasphemy has no place in our country! This man is insulting everything civilized people believe in! He must be excommunicated! He must be driven out! He must be stoned and removed from God’s earth! What shall we do with his book?”
The crowd screamed a ragged reply; “BURN IT! BURN IT!”
With a smug self-satisfied smile the soap-box orator dropped the book into the brazier, where it started burning.
As Notovitch stood in shocked amazement at the street corner, a woman in the crowd spotted him and pointed. “There he is!” she shrieked furiously. “That’s the man! He wrote the blasphemous book!”
The crowd surged angrily toward Notovitch, who squared his shoulders and walked through the mass of people. The crowd screamed and jeered at him wildly. Another woman spat at him. A man knocked his top hat off and stamped on it. Someone else threw a piece of stinking garbage at his face. Notovitch struggled through the crowd with increasing difficulty until he reached a flight of steps outside a fine-looking private house. As he started to walk up the steps, a man grabbed at his coat sleeve and pulled it hard, tearing it at the shoulder and causing Notovitch to almost lose his balance and fall back down the flight of steps. The savage shouting and taunting continued unabated. Then, as Notovitch regained his balance and trod up a few more steps, a man in the front of the crowd raised his head to scream at him, pointing angrily.
“Blasphemer! Wicked liar! Fraud! Evil deceiver! Keep silent! How dare you corrupt the people with your falsehoods!”
Notovitch, badly shaken, reached the imposing front door at the top of the steps, fumbled for a key and let himself in as thrown excrement splashed on the wall beside the door. The door slammed loudly behind him. He leaned shaken and gasping against the inside wall. In the hall mirror opposite he saw his torn clothing. He wiped the muck from his head with a handkerchief and walked shakily into his lounge where he sank down into an armchair, trembling slightly. The muffled jeers of the crowd outside could still be heard.
Some weeks later, in the late evening lit by gaslight, Notovitch was seated calmly in an armchair, an older and affluent-looking man seated opposite him. Both were smoking cigars. Glasses and a bottle of Cognac were on an occasional table placed between them.
“That was an excellent dinner, Nicolas. I thank you. Please give my plaudits to your cook.”
“I shall, Eugéne. And thank you for the brandy, it is a very fine one.”
“I can also tell you that the sales of your book are galloping ahead. Our New York office has already received over a thousand advance orders for it from bookshops.”
Notovitch pulled a face. “I’m afraid not everyone likes it.”
His guest waved his cigar in the air dismissively. “Ach! There will always be people with narrow minds and wide mouths. I heard you had trouble from protesters.”
“Well, I…” began Notovitch, but at the same moment there was a sound of smashing glass and a lighted oil lamp was thrown through the window of the room from outside. The lamp smashed on a carpet near curtains and immediately spread a pool of blazing oil, which caught the curtains alight. Notovitch leaped to his feet and tor down burning curtains, using them to smother the pool of burning oil. The curtains were insufficient for this, and he yanked up a large rug, sending an occasional table bearing china ornaments smashing. He dropped the rug on the pool of blazing oil and stamped on it for some minutes, extinguishing the fire. The room was filled with acrid smoke and Notovitch threw open the nearby windows. His publisher Eugéne was frozen with fear in his armchair. The two men look at each other wordlessly, wide-eyed with horrified reaction.
“I cannot continue like this…!” whispered Notovitch in a shaken voice.
In a courtyard of the Hemis monastery twenty Buddhist monks knelt side-by-side in a line. They were all bowing very low, their foreheads almost touching ground. In the background could be heard peaceful monotone chanting. The ancient Abbot walked very slowly along the row of bowing monks, assisted by two monks who supported him and kept him from falling. The Abbot paused at each monk in the row and placed his hand on their lowered head. Each time he did this, he said a blessing: “Pannasampada.”
Each monk in turn lifted their face to the Abbot, smiled, made the praying hands gesture to him, and he passed on.
More than half way along the row the Abbot reached a monk and gave him the same benediction. The monk sat up smiling. It was Brother Nacca Sutta and he gave the Abbot the same praying hands salute.
The Abbot passed on to the next monk and touched him on head. The monk raised his head smiling. Even with a shaven head it could be seen that it was Nicolas Notovitch. He gave the praying hands salute and the Abbot, smiling, walked on.
In Srinagar, Kashmir, is an ancient tomb with a carving depicting the wounds of a crucifixion and the remains of a body buried in the Jewish manner, not the local way.
According to local legend, this is the tomb of a wise teacher who came long ago with his wife from Judaea and raised a family.
He is known as "Saint Issa".
"Issa" is a name which, in Greek, is written as "Jesus".
Nicolas Notovitch was a real person. He was born in August 1858.
The date and place of his death is unknown.