Yachobel's heart pounded so loud she was afraid the soldier could hear it. "No, we haven't seen anyone for over a month and then it was a group of purple dealers heading north. It gets very lonely here in the gardens and the only people we see are the priests who come to collect the balsam and herbs." Yachobel prayed that the quiver in her voice went unnoticed. Her heart almost stopped at the thought of Yosef and Mesha returning before the soldier left. Sensing her nervousness, Scamander figured it was a natural reaction by all Jews to Roman soldiers, but he decided to look around anyway. "You don't mind if I look around do you?" His imperious tone made it more of a command than a request.
"Of course not," said Yachobel, "as you can see, I am alone today. My husband is in Heliopolis on business." The soldier went into the house while Yachobel remained outside. She hoped that the soldier would not notice the cradle that Yosef had made only yesterday. After a few minutes, Scamander came out and mounted his horse. "I'll just take a quick look around the gardens," he said. Yachobel was terrified. "Please be careful not to tread your horse on the valuable plants," she asked. "The Roman Governor would be furious." The mention of the Egyptian Governor had the impact that Yachobel cleverly intended. Scamander grunted and trotted toward the hill where Yachobel and Miriam had sat chatting moments before. Yachobel remained behind, pleading under her breath, "Merciful God, protect them!" The soldier reigned up near the old sycamore and glanced around. Yachobel thought she would faint from anxiety. Scamander took a look around, turned his horse, waved and trotted down the path toward the gate. Yachobel couldn't believe her eyes. He had to have seen Miriam and Yisu. She raced over to the old tree and looked in astonishment. It was impossible to see into the hollow of the tree because of a thick spider web spun over the opening.
"Miriam, are you in there?" she called out.
"Of course," answered Miriam. "Where else would I be?"
Miriam emerged from the tree with little Yisu, breaking the spider web as she came out.
"Only God could have done this, Miriam," said Yachobel.
"How else could a spider spin a web like that in only a few minutes?"
"Yachobel, let's not say anything to Yosef and Mesha about this." Miriam pleaded. "Yosef has so many things to worry about lately and so many strange things have happened. Besides, the danger is past."
"But why wouldn't you want Yosef to know," asked Yachobel, "I would think that he would be overjoyed that God protects you like this."
"Yachobel, I am going to tell you something because I know you'll keep it secret," whispered Miriam. Both women sat under the sycamore while Miriam explained, "In the middle of Adar last, when Yosef and I were betrothed, an angel appeared in a dream and told me that I was going to bear a son even though I had never known a man. The angel said that the spirit of God had come upon me and that the product of my womb would be holy. Then there was a quickening in my womb which startles me into wakefulness. As I woke, even then I could hear the voice of the angel telling me that the name of the child would be Y'shua." Yachobel's eyes widened, Miriam continued, "I thought that the dream was caused by my excitement over my upcoming marriage and paid no more notice until I passed the time for my monthly sickness without issue. When I began to feel ill in the mornings, I knew that I was indeed with child. It was then that the angel returned to me and told me I would have no more sickness and no pain because both mother and child were not heirs of Eden. I remember being frightened and confused because I had neverheard of a woman becoming with child without having shared her bed and you must believe me, Yachobel, I hadn't."
"After today, I believe anything," gasped Yachobel.
Miriam cradled Yisu closer, "at first, Yosef was shocked and angry and was going to privately break our betrothal contract. He didn't want to cause embarrassment to my family. I felt no shame for I knew that God had breathed this child in me and that I had not sinned. The next day Yosef returned to the house and proclaimed the child as his! He said the marriage would go forth as planned. He later told me that the angel had also visited his dream and the angel, whose name was Gabriel, told him that I was innocent and that the child was from the Most High. Yosef said the dream was so vivid and so unlike the usual wanderings of the mind in sleep that he knew in his heart that I had not been unfaithful. He didn't understand it all but he knew that the marriage must take place and that he loved me too much to put me aside. Now with what has happened in Bethlehem, the three sages, Herod, and now this. You can understand why I don't want to put more burden on Yosef's pondering, can't you? I know that little Yisu is protected by the Most High. I don't know what the future holds or what God expects of me or Yisu. I can only keep these things in my heart and one day I will understand. Yosef doesn't like to think about these things. You know how he is about things he can't see or make with his own hands. He just wipes it from his mind. It is for this reason that the things I have told you and what happened today stay a secret.
"Yes, dear cousin," said Yachobel, "it will be between us. I'm scared by all of this but you have always been like a sister to me. I remember when Aunt Hannah kept me when my mother was sick. I knew that there was something special about you even then, and today I have seen you protected by El Shaddai himself. Will things ever be the same again?"
Miriam embraced Yachobel, "Of course, my dearest cousin, you know how much I love you. I don't know why this thing has happened to me rather than the daughter of some priestly or highborn family. Whatever the reason, we must live our lives as if these things had not happened and leave the rest to God."
Yosef and Mesha had returned from Heliopolis with a load of lumber packed on their cart. They released the ass to graze in the pasture and approached the house. "What have you two been doing all morning?" asked Mesha, "probably gossiping about home, I'll wager,"
"Yes," said Yachobel, "we have had a lot to catch up on."
"Well, while you two have had a good time, we had quite a bit of excitement," said Yosef. "We saw a Roman soldier on the road back from Heliopolis and it was one of the two that escorted us back on the Nabataean road."
"Did he see you?" asked Miriam, glancing at Yachobel. Yosef shook his head, "No, he seemed preoccupied and I crouched behind the ass as if to adjust the harness. He only glanced at Mesha and went on his way."
"No matter," said Miriam, winking knowingly at Yachobel, "There are many Roman soldiers in Egypt. We shouldn't get fearful every time we see one. We're safe from now on, I'm sure of it."
"I'm glad you're so confident," said Yosef, "but I think we better restrict our activities to the gardens from now on. Mesha can get whatever we need from town. Now where's my little Yisu?"
"He's been sleeping all morning," answered Miriam, "I'm about to take him to the house and lay him in that new cradle."
18 Nisan, 3757........April 15, 4 B.C.
Yosef, Miriam and Yachobel were sitting on the porch enjoying the spring warmth and the smell of the new herb blossoms. Mesha was in town buying supplies against the temple account for the spring plantings.
"Little Yisu is growing so fast," said Yachobel, "it's hard to remember how tiny he was when you first came. Now he's running around in the garden exploring everything." "Momma, look!" shouted the toddler, pointing to a honeybee visiting blossom after blossom.
"No, no, Yisu, don't touch," warned Miriam.
"I don't think he'll get stung," said Yachobel, smiling, "all of the wild creatures in the garden come to him. The birds light around him, even the mice eat seeds out of his hand. I've never seen anything like it."
Miriam shook her head, "He certainly has a way with animals. He never seems to be that much interested in the toys that Yosef makes for him. He'd rather be in the garden playing with the rabbits."
Suddenly Mesha appeared at the gate, left the cart and asses and ran up the path as fast as he could. "He's dead! He's dead!" Mesha shouted.
"Who's dead?" asked Yosef, "Why are you so excited?"
"Herod!" gasped Mesha. "I heard it in town. Herod's been dead for a month. Do you remember when the shadow of God was on the moon last month?"
"Sure," answered Yosef, "Yisu thought something was eating it."
"Well, that's when Herod died," said Mesha.
"May God forgive him and have mercy on him," whispered Miriam.
"How can you say that?" Yosef asked angrily. "Don't you remember how he tried to kill our little Yisu? He slaughtered all those poor little babies hoping he got Yisu with them. I hope he rots in Gehenna."
"The Most High will judge him and punish him unrepentant," said Miriam.
"Well, for my part I'm glad he'd dead because it means we can go home," said Yosef.
"Wait! There's more news," said Mesha, catching his breath. "The temple priests told me that Herod left the kingdom to all three of his sons. Those Gaul and Thracian assassins of Herod have named Archelaus king of Judea. Antipas is going to take the Galilee and Philip will have Peraea. They're going to be tetrarchs."
"But Archelaus is as bad as Herod ever was, if not worse," said Yosef, "and Antipas is no better. Philip always seemed to be a half-decent sort but he'll have no real power."
"I'm afraid trouble has already broken out," interrupted Mesha. "The priests told me that riots started almost as soon as the old king took his last breath." Mesha finally calmed down enough to sit, wipe his brow, and continue, "Yosef, you remember when Herod executed Yehudah Ben Saripha and Mattathias Ben Margolath?"
"Yes," Yosef replied thoughtfully, "They were the temple scholars that tore the golden eagles off the temple gate. Herod had them burned alive, the Roman toady!"
"That's right," continued Mesha, "and as soon as Herod died, the people saw a chance to get even for that and they attacked the palace. Archelaus had several cohorts of the sixth legion waiting and ready. They butchered thousands of people, it didn't make any difference if they were involved or not. The priest told me that there were so many bodies scattered around the temple court yard that there wasn't even walking space. You know those marble steps that lead to the Beautiful Gate? There was so much blood that it ran from the top step to the very last."
Yosef shook his head, remembering little Yisu's dedication on that very spot, his expression revealed both grief and anger.
Mesha went on, "Rumor has it that Antipas sort of helped the sick old king leave this world, if you know what I mean...suffocated him, I think it was. Now, Antipas and Archelaus are fighting over the throne and they are both rushing to Rome to see who can get to Caesar first. Now that they're gone, the Romans are looting the temple and the people are rioting again. The zealots keep stirring them up. The priest that told me these things was there. He just got back from Jerusalem. Just as he left, Varus, the Legatis that took Saturninus place? He called in the two legions from Galatia. Yosef, they are crucifying hundreds of people. One of the sailors who just got in told me that from Gol G'tha all the way down past Herod's palace and into the Valley of Hinnom looks like a forest of human corpses."
"Crucifying?" responded Yosef, unable to hide his anguish. "Almighty God in Heaven! There can't be a worse way for anybody to die. I'd rather be burned alive like Ben Saripha. Trust the Romans to invent such a cruel thing."
"Will there ever be peace in our land?" whispered Miriam, tears meandering down her cheeks. "What will we do, Yosef?"
"We'll go back to Nazareth," Yosef replied. "It's peaceful in the Galilee. Even though Antipas will be ruler there, he'll stay in the palace in Jerusalem. Galilee is too poor a country for him, not enough luxury. All of the wolves stay in Jerusalem."
"Why don't you and Miriam stay here?" asked Yachobel. "we love you and you must admit, it's a good life here."
"Miriam and I have been very happy here, Yachobel," replied Yosef, "But our hearts are at home and I have been very anxious to get on with my plans for a builder's shop. We still have most of the gold that the Magi gave us when Yisu was born. Miriam and I have discussed it and we want to give you the greater portion of it to help the poor and the people that come to escape the terror of home. I also want Mesha to use some to put in that vineyard he's always wanted. Maybe the next time we see you, he'll be a fat, prosperous wine merchant. What we will keep will be just enough to start the shop in Nazareth."
"We'll miss you so much," teared Yachobel. "and we'll miss little Yisu more than we can say. Watching him grow has been like watching the son that Mesha and I could never have."
"Yachobel," Miriam interrupted, her eyes bright with an idea. "Why don't you and Mesha come to Nazareth for each First Fruits Festival? That's a time when things are slow here in Egypt and we'll get a chance to see each other."
"Good," replied Mesha to Yachobel's pleading glance, "We'll make it a family tradition, but tell me Yosef, how are you going to get home? You can't go through Jerusalem."
"We'll take the riverboat to PerRamses," answered Yosef. "Then we'll get one of the Phoenician boats to Ptolmais where there's a road right to Nazareth. We'll be safe enough, don't worry. We'll pack tonight and catch the riverboat in the morning."
"May the Most High go with you," said Yachobel.
"He will," said Miriam, "He will, and...don't ask how I know, but I believe that he will bless you with the child you always wanted."
Yachobel looked in Miriam's eyes and drifted back to their talk under the sycamore over two years ago. Yachobel knew that Miriam was very special to the Most High and if Miriam knew that she, Yachobel, would finally have a child, than it must be so. The sadness of so many barren years disappeared at that moment and Yachobel felt a strange quivering deep inside her.
Nazareth, 12 Nisan, 3767..........March 19, 7 A.D.
The early morning air was still a little crisp on the hilltop overlooking the village. Y'shua couldn't sleep well because today was an important and exciting time for him. He was 12 years old now and had started into his thirteenth year on first Nisan. He would become Bar-Mitzvah in Kislev and would be considered a man. Today he would accompany his mother and father to the Holy City to sacrifice for Passover. Y'shua sat on the grassy knoll and looked out over the village. At the bottom of the hill, not far from his house, he could see the lamplights around the well. Many of the wives of Nazareth were preparing early breakfasts before leaving for Jerusalem. As the dome of the sun rose over Mount Tabor, the light of the spring dawn gradually erased the stars over the village. The light reflected from Y'shua's jet black hair which he kept tied to the back like many of the other young Galileans. His eyes were greenish brown, half covered with full eyelids that gave him a dreamy appearance. His long lashes contributed to a gentle expression no matter how intense his mood. He was thin but very muscular and agile and he was taller than most boys his age. His lips were kind of pouty and his face was beginning to show small patches of fine growth over his lip and on the dimpled point of his chin. Y'shua was a fine looking youth and many of the young girls of the village were beginning to take notice. Y'shua did not seem to pay them much mind...he was young yet, many of the mothers would say...give him time.
It was a mist free morning and Y'shua could make out the distant outline of Mount Carmel far to the west. Y'shua remembered the story of Elijah and how he had triumphed over the priests of Baal on that very spot. He looked further down at the plain of Esdraelon and remembered how Elijah had ran its breadth before Ahab and how, before that, Deborah and Barak descended on the Canaanite confederacy. He turned south and could see Mount Gilboa where Saul fell in battle and from which Gideon descended and defeated the Midianites. It seemed that everywhere he turned from this favorite spot of his, he could see a portion of the history of Israel.
Yosef and Miriam arose at the first light. There was a lot of preparation this morning for the trip to the Holy City. They awoke Y'shua's little brothers, Yakub and Simon and funny little Yehuda so they could get their breakfasts early. They were going to have to stay with their Aunt Salome while they and Y'shua were in Jerusalem. Some day each of those boys, in their turn, would make their first trip. Yakub was ten now and always seemed so serious. His features were more harsh than Y'shua's but he had inherited Y'shua's gentleness. Yakub always seemed to be concerned with what was right or wrong, often debating at length with Y'shua over matters seemingly beyond the understanding of most children his age. Little Simon had just had his seventh birthday and was beginning school at the synagogue. Simon was not the scholar that Yakub was. He couldn't wait to get home from school to go playing with the other boys of the village. He was very popular and was usually the leader of the games, even for the older boys. Yehuda was the youngest and at four had captured the hearts of everyone in the village. His hair had a reddish highlight to it and his adventurous, mischievous nature endeared him to everyone. Yehuda was not afraid of anything. He would approach any village beast or challenge any obstacle to his intentions with a spirit that kept everyone busy keeping him out of trouble. Actually, Miriam was looking forward to the few days in Jerusalem. Her sister Salome lived only a few doors away, preferring to stay in Nazareth rather than K'far Nahum, and had volunteered to watch the boys while they went to Jerusalem. Salome had one boy, Yakub, who was 19, married and expecting a child. Salome had just learned she was going to have another which surprised everyone. She would be a mother again and a grandmother in the same year. Her husband, Zebedee, would also be going to Jerusalem from K'far Nahum where he and Yaqub were fishing.
Miriam went to wake Y'shua but found his pallet empty. This didn't worry her, she and Yosef had gotten used to his early risings. Y'shua enjoyed his morning walks before the shop opened. He was spending more time to himself lately. Miriam was hoping he would be coming in soon. The trip to Jerusalem would take four days and they wanted to join one of the other village groups. Travelling in groups allowed them to take the more direct route through Samaria and offered protection from the bandits that were known to infest the Samaritan hills. Yosef was planning on making it to Ginaea by tonight, Sebaste by tomorrow night and then on to Ephraim. They could cover the final five leagues to Jerusalem in plenty of time to celebrate the Seder with Simon and Miriam. Y'shua came in just as the younger boys were finishing their breakfast. "What can I do to help, Mama? The groups are starting to meet at the well."
"Well, you can take your little brothers to your Aunt Salome's," Miriam answered, "Your father's locking up the shop so that by the time you get back, we should be ready to go."
"Hustle along, fellas, let's go," Y'shua shouted playfully.
"I don't want to go, Mama," cried little Yehuda. "Why cant I go with Yisu?"
"Because your Aunt Salome needs some men around the house to watch out for her while we're gone," said Miriam, winking at Y'shua.
"You mean protect her from the Philistines?" asked little Yehuda, picking up the little wooden sword Yosef whittled for him.
"That's right, little soldier," said Y'shua, picking him up. "Now give Mama a kiss and let's go, all of you." Yehuda wiped his runny nose and kissed his mother in turn with Yakub and Simon. They filed out of the house following Y'shua with Yehuda on his shoulders. A few minutes later, Y'shua came running back, nearly knocking Yosef down as he bounded in the door.
"Are we ready now," he asked, Y'shua couldn't hide his excitement. He had not been in Jerusalem since he was a toddler. Before that, his parents took him to see old Simeon the Priest for his anointing. Y'shua was too little to remember the Holy City. Yosef was proud of Y'shua. He was growing into a fine young man and a very good worker, but Yosef knew that his son's heart was not into the making of cabinets, ox goads and threshing sledges. Y'shua was already gaining quite a reputation for making some of the finest yokes in the Galilee. Unlike most lads in Galilee, Y'shua could read. He was first taught by an old friend from Ramathaim also named Yosef. Yosef Ha Ramathaim was a merchant who frequently came through Nazareth on his trading route to the port of Tyre. There he would buy the purple dye that was so admired by the Romans in Caesarea and Jerusalem. The merchant had used his influence with the elders of the synagogue near Mount Tabor to allow Y'shua to attend the school and to have access to the library. If Y'shua had any trouble with the writings, the old priest Aaron would help. The synagogue elders were glad to do this favor for Yosef because they knew that someday he would inherit his father's seat on the Sanhedrin. Ha'Ramathaim had used his influence in Jerusalem to keep the synagogue open. Some of the temple administrators wanted to close it down because it wasn't producing revenue for the Temple. The Galilee was just too poor a country, there was barely enough for the synagogue's basic needs. The merchant was not only successful in keeping the synagogue open but had even endowed a trust for its needs. For this favor, the elders at the synagogue certainly didn't mind educating this lad. Old Aaron was fascinated
with Y'shua's remarkable memory and his ability to absorb and repeat long columns of scripture.
Y'shua walked the league to the synagogue whenever work was slack in his father's shop. He enjoyed the walk through the groves and fields. In the spring, the lilies in fields that were so fallow a short while ago were so abundant that sparrows danced among them in search of insects. He enjoyed watching how God provided for even the least of creatures. He even marvelled at the tiny seeds on the mustard plants that grew along the roadside. Such a tiny seed to produce so much. Y'shua loved Nazareth with all its little houses with clay walls clustered on the side of the hill. He loved the farms, the palm trees, pomegranates and vineyards. Many times, Y'shua had helped neighboring farmers with their harvests because there were never enough hands to gather the barley and wheat that grew so well in the Galilee. Y'shua and his village friends would be paid in kind for their work and it made him feel good to be doing his part for the family. He loved the sight and smell of rich golden fields of grain that he had watched being sown. He noticed that the seed that fell on good cultivated soil grew into healthy plants and the seed that fell into the rocks didn't do well at all. He remembered old Aaron telling him that people were like that too.
Yosef tolerated Y'shua's preoccupation with thought knowing, as he did, that he was different than Yakub, Simon and Yehuda. Ha'Ramathaim often argued to Yosef that Y'shua was destined for greater things than being a tekton, an artisan of the building arts, not that there was anything wrong with carpentry and masonry, mind you. Perhaps some day Y'shua would be a member of the Great Sanhedrin or a High Priest. Maybe he would be a prophet on the order of Elijah or Jeremiah. Yosef Ha'Ramathaim just knew that there was some destiny for Y'shua beyond Nazareth. Yosef didn't discuss the circumstances of Y'shua's birth with his merchant friend what with his constant talk of the Messiah. What upset Yosef in particular was the talk about the "Suffering Servant." He just didn't think about it any more. Y'shua was his son and he wanted him to be a tekton like himself. There was something very wholesome about working with the hands, fashioning formless pieces of lumber into fine pieces of furniture. In Yosef's mind, there was certainly some of God's purpose in taking an idle tree of the forest and transforming it into plows and goads and other tools with which a man can earn a living and feed his family. Yosef had built up a pretty good trade since the return from Egypt. Ha'Ramathaim bought his finer pieces to sell in the markets of Tyre, even some of the Romans from the cohorts marching along the Galilee road were customers. Merchants that used the caravan route south of town would also buy his finer pieces to trade in Damascus and Egypt. Yosef was proud of his work and his reputation. They would never be rich but they lived as well as anyone else in Nazareth and were able to give regularly to the poor.
"Well, Son," said Yosef, patting Y'shua on the back, "It's time to go. I want to be in Ginaea by Sundown. Your uncle Clopas and his group will meet us at the well and we don't want to have to hurry." They got to the well at the bottom of the hill just as Clopas, Yosef's younger brother, was finishing one of his long stories recounting his adventures as a merchant seaman. Clopas had hired out for several years on merchant ships out of Tyre. Clopas' wife was named Miriam also and his sons, Yakub and Mattathiah Levi were very close to Yosef and Miriam having spent a lot of time with them while Clopas was at sea. Sometimes it was very confusing with so many Yakubs in the family. There was Y'shua's brother, Aunt Salome's oldest and Uncle Clopas' oldest. They were all named after their mutual grandfather. The family gave each Yakub a nickname in order to keep them apart. Y'shua's little brother was called "Tsedek," meaning righteous because of his very disciplined behavior. Uncle Clopas' son was called "Katon Yakub" which meant Little Yakub because he was the youngest. The son of Uncle Zebedee and Aunt Salome was called "Gadol Yakub" or "Big Yakub" because of his age. Both cousins, one older and one younger than Y'shua, looked on him as a brother. The boys spent so much time in Yosef's household that the nicknames saved a lot of confusion. In small towns like Nazareth family closeness was a necessity. There were many unhealthy influences that could turn young people away from true paths, influences that came with all manner of visitors from exotic places. Cousins were considered as close as brothers and often the distinction between the two were narrow since the custom was for an uncle to assume the role of father when his brother was away or deceased. Yosef had often assumed this role with "Little" Yakub and Mattathiah Levi when Clopas was away.
Clopas turned and greeted his brother, "Shalom, big brother! Miriam! Well, will you look at little Yisu, not so little any more. Are you ready for your first Pesach in the Holy City, little nephew."
"I have never looked forward to anything this much, Uncle Alphai," replied Y'shua using his uncle's Hebrew name.
"That's my boy, well let's get going Yosef, I have a lot of news to tell you on the way." Clopas Alphai always had yarns to spin about far off places. Yosef and Miriam were always anxious to hear about places like Alexandria, Corinth and Knossus. Y'shua listened politely without interrupting even though he has many questions to ask about the temple and the Holy City. The trek to the Holy City and the stopovers were without incident. Some of the younger men from more affluent families limped from blisters that formed on their uncalloused feet and one women, heavy with child, had to stay in Sebaste. It looked like the Galilee would be well represented at the Feast and the Temple registry would look well for old Aaron. Aaron had allowed celebration of Pesach at the temple on the official Judean calendar this year. Normally Galileans celebrated Pesach on Tuesday in keeping with the Book of Jubilees. This difference of opinion was always a thorn in the side of the Temple priests when it came to Galileans. It was the middle of the day before Sabbath when the family approached Jerusalem from the north. Y'shua gazed awestruck as the Tower of Antonia came into sight. Finally, about a stadion
from the Gennath Gate, he stopped and stared, entranced by the imposing structure of the Temple. A strange feeling came over him as he looked at the promontory of Mount Moriah upon which rested the Holy of Holies, the House of God. He remembered the stories that his great Uncle Zechariya used to tell about the inside of the Temple. Zechariya had been a priest of Abijah's order and his turn to tend the great Altar of the Holy of Holies had come up the year before Y'shua was born. Zechariya talked of it often and with great pride until he passed away about three years ago. He remembered his uncle's vivid description of the great rock that served as the incense altar. The rock had impressions in it into which various sacred artifacts of brass and gold were placed. There were some stories that the rock had upon it the very footprints of the Most High. The most perfect of all the sacrificial animals were offered here. A large hole bored through the middle of the rock carried the blood of the sacrifices into a cistern beneath it. Channels leading from the cistern carried the sacrificial blood into the Kidron valley. These animals, perfect in every way, were chosen to represent all of the thousands brought to the temple as an offering to God. Just north of the rock, The Holy of Holies was a thirty foot cube of solid stone walls, panelled in cedar and overlaid with pure gold.
Y'shua thought about the stories of how his ancestor, King David, purchased this site on Mount Moriah from a Jebusite who had used it as a threshing floor.
"Yisu!" Yosef's voice awakened Y'shua from his near trance.
"I'm sorry, Papa," he said, "I was just thinking"
"I know, son. I remember my first sight of the temple when I was your age. This place has even more special meaning to us since we are direct descendants of David. A thousand years of your family's history is before you. We have to hurry now, I want to get to my sister's house in the Upper City while there's still time to prepare the Seder tonight."
They passed the beautiful Amygdalon Pool and entered the gate, Y'shua was overwhelmed by the sight of granite and marble. There wasn't anything like this in Nazareth or even K'far Nahum. There was Herod's palace on the right and the Hasmonean palace on the left. The intricate porticoes and colonnades of the temple left him breathless. The streets were so crowded it was almost impossible to walk without bumping into someone. The sidewalks were cluttered with merchants and hawkers of all description. The cacophony of shouting and hooting as they called attention to their goods was nearly deafening to the young boy's ears. The market place in Nazareth was never as noisy as this. Underneath the human staccato of voices and shouts could be heard the terrified bleating of lambs being sold for preparation day. Yosef grabbed Miriam's hand and Miriam took Y'shua's as they snaked through the streets avoiding multiple collisions with rushing street people. Other pilgrim's wandered lost and awestruck through the streets signalling their naivete to the ways of the streets. They were obvious targets for pickpockets and smooth talking hawkers. Harlots leaned, thinly clad, on the eaves of upper stories shouting and gesturing obscenely to potential customers below. The mixtures of sights and sounds, wonderful and shocking, good and evil were so intense that Y'shua remained silent all the way to the residential area at the southern end of the upper city. Life in quiet, peaceful Nazareth had not prepared him
for the noises and trappings of the largest and most important city in Judea. He felt relief as the calmer hum of the residential area replaced the din of the mercantile section. The sounds of children playing behind tall fences and the kitchen odors were much more familiar to him. He released his mother's hand now, a little embarrassed for thesense of security it had given him. After all, he is supposed to be a man now.
"We're almost there now," said Yosef, with obvious relief. "Your aunt Miriam's house is around this corner and down the block." As they turned the corner, Y'shua nearly collided with a tall, handsome, elegantly dressed man who had just emerged from a beautiful house with white marble columns and lintels.
"Excuse me, Sir," said Y'shua, his hand brushing the man's silken stole. The man's hand braced Y'shua's shoulder and for a moment, boy and man looked into each others eyes. There seemed to be a moment of fascination with each other. The man's skin was light and was without the weathered appearance of the farmers back home. He had coal black hair which was beginning to show occasional pepperings of grey. His faced seemed stern and there was something in his eyes that stirred Y'shua. Yosef and the man exchanged greetings. "Nice looking lad," the man grumbled as he hurried off. "Who was that, Papa?" asked Y'shua.
"Son, you just nearly knocked over none other than Annas Bar Seth, the High Priest himself."
Annas hurried along, being met on the way by members of the Sanhedrin. There was a lot for him to do today before he himself had to return home for the Pesach meal. As he chatted with the other men, his mind kept returning to that young lad.....there was something about that boy's eyes. The high Priest thought about how much Jerusalem had changed in the last few years. It was only about two years ago that Archelaus was finally deposed and banished to Gaul by Augustus. He had put the country through ten years of violence and incompetence. Quirinius himself had used his considerable influence with Caesar to bring Archelaus down and put the Judea under the administration of a Roman prefect named Coponius. Quirinius allowed Herod's other two sons, Philip and Antipas, to keep their Tetrarchies if they toed the line. Archelaus' appointed high priest, Yeshua Bar Sie, was also removed and he, Annas, was appointed. Quirinius knew that the male members of Annas' family had served as high priests since the time of Hyrcanus and, more importantly, Annas was known to be a strong advocate of compromise with Rome. Annas saw compromise as the only means of survival for the Jewish nation. His biggest fear had been, in the light of continued rebellion, that Rome would disperse the Jews as the Babylonians had about six centuries ago. Last year he and Quirinius had administered the second census before the consul went back to Rome. Coponius set Antipas in the Palace in Jerusalem and took up his own residence in the Antonia Fortress. It was handy for the praefect to have both Annas and Antipas within easy beckoning for the administration of Jewish affairs. Coponius preferred to deal with matters of the Empire like the tax collection. Annas was pleased. The land was at peace, the temple was intact and Rome was satisfied.
The two families sat around the table in the upper room of Simon bar Naba's house just as they had when Yosef was small. Simon's father had been a close friend to Yosef's father Yakub and it was almost understood since childhood that Simon and Yosef's sister Miriam would someday marry. Yosef had been elected the master of the ceremony since this was Y'shua's first Seder as a participant. Yosef stood at the head of the table, his white kittel reflecting the candlelight. He poured a cup of wine for everyone and said: "Baruch Atta Adonai Elohenu....Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who chose us from every people, and exalted us among every tongue, and sanctified us by his commandments. With love hast thou given us, O Lord our God, holidays for gladness, festivals and seasons for rejoicing, this day of the festival of unleavened bread, the season of our deliverance, a holy convocation in remembrance of the departure from Egypt. For us hast thou sanctified from all peoples, and the holidays of thy sanctification hast thou given us, with gladness and joy to inherit. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who sanctifies Israel and the seasons. Blessed art thou. O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season."
Y'shua glanced around the table at the trappings of this solemn occasion and felt his heart swell with fulfillment. Like all young Jewish boys at their first Seder participation, Y'shua was nervous because his part was coming up. Would he remember exactly what he was supposed to say? Would he do it like old Aaron had taught him? The first cup of wine was drunk by all at the table. Y'shua emptied the small portion which Yosef had poured in his cup, Yosef smiled. The sweet liquid warmed Y'shua's throat and filled his nostrils with its heady fruity aroma. He could feel the wine sitting in his empty stomach. Miriam placed a basin in front of him and poured a little water over his outstretched hands and handed him a napkin. He dried his hands while each in turn performed the ritual washing. Then Yosef dipped the leafy end of a celery stalk in a bowl of vinegar and broke off the individual spears, handing them to each person at the table. "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the earth." Y'shua placed the greenery end of the celery in his mouth and chewed, tasting the sour pungency of the vinegar. Yosef picked up the middle of three arranged wafers of unleavened bread and broke it in two, holding them both up to see which was the larger of the halves. He took the larger and wrapped it in a cloth, setting it aside. Yosef took a shankbone and an egg from the Seder dish while Y'shua and Simon lifted the platter from the table saying: "This is the bread of poverty which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry enter and eat; let all who are needy come to our Passover Feast. This year we are here, next year may we be in the land of Israel. This year we are slaves; next year may we be free men."
Y'shua and Simon lowered the platter back to the table and another cup of wine was poured. Y'shua stood up and looked proudly in Yosef's face who smiled slightly as his son asked, "Why does this night differ from all other nights?" The Passover meal continued as it had for hundreds of years and when they finally got to the singing of the Hallel, Y'shua really felt as if he was grown up. He lay awake that night and thought about that night fourteen centuries ago when the Angel of Death swept over Egypt compelled to "Pass Over" the homes of the Jews and to take the first born sons of the Egyptians. So much history, so much tradition to preserve a covenant that will soon be renewed - a new covenant, thought Y'shua as he drifted off in sleep.
"Wake up, son," Yosef knelt and shook Y'shua. "We want to get to the Temple for our offering." Y'shua yawned and quickly got to his feet as the realization of this day's activities swept away the confusion of sleep. He felt the hollow of hunger in his stomach but, remembering the fast of the day, quickly brushed away thoughts of his mother's honey cakes. Cinching the new white robe, made special for today, he brushed his hair quickly and called for his mother to braid his man's pigtail. His heart pounded as he splashed water from the basin onto his face. "If you don't hold still, Yisu, I'll never get this hair braided," Miriam chided good naturedly. She knew how important this day was to Y'shua. She finished banding the braid and turned her son to face her, straightening his tunic and removing imperceptible bits of lint. An unsettling combination of pride and pain filled her heart as she looked at her son's nearly grown face. What a beautiful boy he was. His black hair was now caressing his collar. His eyes were so piercing. His slender straight nose was typical of the noble line of David and his pouting lips reminded Miriam of her mother Hannah.
"Come on, you two or I'll leave without you," taunted Yosef. They emerged from Simon's house to the portico that led directly to the street. They could smell the acrid aroma of something burning, "What's burning?" asked Y'shua looking around for the source of the smell. "Do you see that wall over there?" asked Yosef. He held Y'shua's shoulder and pointed to a point just south of them where two huge walls came together. "Just over that turn in the wall is the Valley of Hinnom where the refuse of the city always burns. Sometimes you can smell it when the wind shifts.
"Oh, I remember, Reb Aaron told me about that place," Y'shua's eyes fixed on the black smoke billowing over the wall, "Gehenna!" he whispered, "Does Satan really visit there?"
"I don't think so son, I think that's a story to keep the children away, but if he was going to show up anywhere, that would be the place for him. Now let's talk about more pleasant things, today is your special day."
Y'shua walked about ten to fifteen paces ahead of Yosef and Miriam, his head turning this way and that as he tried to take in every new sight. They walked north on the Street of Ezekiel until they approached the Palace of Herod where they turned right. Yosef halted the little procession in front of the old Hasmonean palace where vendors were selling animals for sacrifice at the temple. Yosef looked around until he spotted the stall of old Josiah from whom he had purchased Paschal and thank-offering lambs and doves for many years. Yosef knew that the old man would ask three shekels for the best lamb and that he would counter-offer two. They always settled for two shekels and five leptons but never failed to go through the bargaining formalities. Old Josiah always kept the most unblemished lamb of just the right age in a special enclosure for Yosef. Yosef paid Josiah with the special sanctuary coins that he had saved from last year. In this way, they would save some money since the cost of sanctuary coinage goes up every year. It was important that sacrificial animals be purchased with these coins exchanged for the Roman and Greek coins in common use. The temple mount was crowded with money changers who made these exchanges at exorbitant profits to themselves. When they exchanged the "foreign" money to the priests for more sanctuary coinage, they made an additional profit as did the priests.
Yosef handed the lamb, with its trussed back legs, to Y'shua to carry and looking over toward the council house, spotted his brother-in law, Zebedee, engaged in animated conversation with three other men. "Look Miriam, there's Zebedee! Hey! You old goat," he shouted.
"Yosef! Miriam!" The portly man replied as they embraced. Y'shua walked up and joined the small cluster after studying old Josiah's doves. "Well, will you look at that boy, will you? All dressed in white for his first offering at the Temple. Come here, little Yisu and hug your uncle." Y'shua was a little embarrassed by Zebedee's enthusiastic bear hugs. Zebedee was his favorite uncle though, not that he didn't like Clopas, but Zebedee was more down to earth. He was a tall man by any standards with bushy eyebrows and a great full beard. Zebedee's voice was always very loud and the crude words with which he punctuated his speech were a constant source of irritation to Miriam's sister, Salome. "Where is "Big Yakub?" asked Miriam, referring to Zebedee's oldest son.
"I left him with Joaz at the inn," answered Zebedee, "He wants to go to the Temple on his own now that he is going to be a father. You remember Joaz, my cousin from Bethsaida? Well, He and I are going to go in partnership with Jonah of K'far Nahum in the fishing business. Jonah's boys will fish the upper part of the Sea of Galilee on the west side and my boats in Bethsaida will work the east side."
"Does that mean you and my sister will move from Nazareth?" asked Miriam.
"Only during the fishing season," replied Zebedee, noticing the concern on his sister-in-law's face, "and even then she'll probably spend more time in Nazareth than at the Great Lake. After all, there's not to much for her to do at the fishing camp and Yaqub won't be wanting to spend all his time there now that he's going to be a family man."
Miriam looked relieved, "I'm glad you aren't moving away permanently, I don't like having the family spread all over the country and now that Salome is going to have another baby...."
"Did she tell you already?" interrupted Zebedee, "We were going to save it as a surprise after the feast."
"Don't blame Salome," said Miriam, "I guessed it only the other day when she wasn't feeling well. We are sisters you know and you can't hide something like that from a sister. She says you're going to name the child Yohanan, as if you're so sure it's going to be another boy."
"I'm positive," beamed Zebedee, "I feel it in these old bones."
"We have to get on to the temple now," said Yosef, "if we're going to get our offering accepted before sunset. We'll see you back in Nazareth, Mr. Fisherman, and I wish you luck in your new partnership. Come Y'shua, and be careful with that lamb." Y'shua held the kicking lamb a little closer. He could feel its little heart beating frantically against his arm. "Good-bye, Uncle," he managed to say as he turned and walked again with his parents. Y'shua was obviously deep in thought......why was it necessary to kill animals to give thanks to God. It didn't make sense to him that some living creature, created by God, should have to suffer and die in order to gain God's grace. Why should this ancient custom, left over from the desert days, be continued in modern times? The splendor of the sight of the temple as they approached the viaduct brought him out of his thoughts. The stairs under the viaduct led them to the royal porch. Everywhere he looked was the sight of gold. They crossed the court of gentiles and the din of the crowd and bleating of animals could not pull his attention from the enormous gate that led to the temple. The giant pillars were entwined with solid gold vines and clusters of golden grapes. The lintels and door panels were adorned with plates of silver and gold and one had to squint the eyes to look at it as the sun rose and beamed directly upon it. The doors and rooftops that were not plated with hammered gold or silver were made of cedar, intricately carved with hundreds of shapes. As they went through the massive "Beautiful Gate" into the Court of Women, he was overwhelmed with the sight of pure white marble polished like precious stones, more gold and mixed aromas of incense and burning flesh. Miriam had to stay behind as Y'shua and his father climbed the fourteen steps to the next gold and silver paneled gate. On the wall on each side of the gate were inscribed in the Peoples Tongue, in Greek, and in Latin....."No foreigner shall enter beyond this point, under pain of death." Twelve more steps ascended to the level of the Holy House. In front was the Great Altar for the offerings. Dozens of temple aides and minor priests accepted lambs offered by the lines of pilgrims, many with their sons. Yosef motioned Y'shua to hand the lamb to an approaching priest who examined the small beast for any imperfection that, according to the Law, would disqualify its use. The priest took the lamb up the stairs and within minutes returned, his white tunic spattered with blood. He handed Yosef the remaining parts of the lamb, still warm, that were not placed on the altar or retained for the priesthood. Y'shua could see the enormous gate of the Holy House. It shone like a thousand sunbursts, such being the quality of the Corinthian brass from which it was made. He knew that beyond this gate were the Great Menorah, its seven lamps representing the seven planets; the Twelve Tables of Shewbread representing the twelve houses of the sky; and there was the Altar of Incense upon which his own great uncle Zechariya had served. Beyond this point hung the great veil beyond which the Great One dwelled. Some say the Ark of the Covenant of the Law still rested in the Holy of Holies, others say it never returned from the great abduction six hundred years ago and a few believed that it had been hidden in some secret place by Jeremiah. The priests would never say whether it was there or not.
Y'shua and his father were getting ready to leave, their offering having been made, when he whispered to Yosef, "Look, Papa! There's the man we met on the street." The High Priest approached to ascend the great steps. He was dressed in a brilliant blue robe with no seams. The robe was fringed and at the bottom of each fringe dangles golden bells and small pomegranates which didn't quite touch the ground as he walked. Y'shua remembered Reb Aaron telling him the bells stood for thunder and the pomegranates for lightning. This symbolism went back to ancient times when Yahweh was considered the Thunder God who lived on Mount Sinai. The priest's blue robe was cinched to his breast with a girdle intricately embroidered in rows of gold, purple, linen, scarlet and blue. The same colors and pattern as the temple veil. The Ephod was buttoned to the breast by two golden buttons set with sardonyxes. It was adorned with twelve precious gems set in three rows of four each. Each gem was a symbol of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The linen mitre on the priest's head was tied with a blue headband and encircled by a golden crown upon which was engraved the four letters of the unmentioned name of God.
Y'shua and Yosef rejoined Miriam in the Lower Court and all three walked out of the gate. On Solomon's Porch, a group of elders gathered and were discussing the Law.
"Papa, I have some questions to ask the Elders, do you mind if I stay behind for a while?" Yosef knew that it would be fruitless to forbid it so he relented. "Very well, my young temple scholar," he replied, "But be sure to meet Clopas' group at the Sychem Road near the pool of Bethesda by sundown, your mother and I will be well on our way. There's a lot of work to catch up with when we get back."
Yosef and Miriam walked on, Miriam looked back with some apprehension over her son being on his own. "Don't worry, He'll be fine," reassured Yosef. "The way to the north road is easy from here, he won't get lost."
Y'shua walked to the group of men and politely waited for an opportunity to interrupt their animated conversation. "Excuse me, sirs, I wonder if you would be kind enough to answer a question?"
"Of course, my boy," said one of the elders, "What is your question?"
"Sir," asked Y'shua, "Isaiah said that God's covenant with Israel was eternal and that David's kingdom would last forever. He said that a king would come to lift the rebuke of Israel for Ahaz' transgression. When, sirs, do think this will happen?"
The oldest priest, whose name was Eleazar, was taken aback by such a question from one of so tender years. Discussion of the Messiah was very dangerous when Herod was alive and the Ha-Zaken themselves often avoided it still. "My son," replied the elder priest, "it is our belief that this king has not yet come. It is hard to interpret Isaiah's meaning, perhaps he was referring to Caesar."
Y'shua was shocked at the priests feeble answer to simply evade the issue. "No sir, with all due respect, the sign of Emanuel could not refer to Caesar who is a foreigner and a heathen but refers to God's continuing covenant with Israel." Eleazar and the other elders were astonished at his knowledge of the scriptures and soon all of them were voicing their diverse opinions concerning messianic prophecy, including a few of the Tseddikim that had gathered at the perimeter of the group. "What do the Ha-Zaken say?" taunted one of the sadducees referring cynically to the two pharisaic joint chairmen, Hillel and Shammai. The sadducees knew in advance what the answer would be. Both great leaders were opposed to messianic discussions and demonstrations, in fact, this is about the only thing they did agree on. The pharisee elders were not going to be baited by the sadducees. They knew that the Joint Chairmen avoid and discourage messianic talk in order to preserve peace. Some years ago, when Herod was alive, certain pharisees in the Sanhedrin attempted a political maneuver against Herod's authority using the messianic doctrine as a tool. This ill fated and near blasphemous political jest cost the lives of a number of pharisees on the Sanhedrin. A young man in the group who was a student in the Beth Hillel said, "My master says that whatever is hateful to you, do not do to another. He says that is the whole law and the rest is just commentary." Y'shua thought about this and said, "Why not put that in a more positive and less passive way and say `Do unto others as you would have then do unto you?"
"Isn't that the same thing?" said the student.
"Not quite," Y'shua replied, as the amused elders listened. "Your way implies not doing a bad thing to someone else which, of course, is worthy. My wording means that you must also go out of your way to do good for others, even your enemies." Another student, obviously from the Beth Shammai added, "Rabboni Shammai says the law is what is important and there can be no rewording or compromise."
"God expects loyalty and righteousness."
"Yes, loyalty to the law."
"No, loyalty to God."
"God's covenant with us is manifest in the law."
"God's covenant with us is manifest in love." interrupted Y'shua. The group silenced. "God expects us to love him as he loves us and then to love our neighbors. The law must then be subordinate to the love of God and man because God never changes and love never changes but the law changes many times. The covenant, therefore, must be eternal but can be renewed and magnified."
It was nearly noon. Yosef and Miriam had stopped at Ramah, also known as Ramathaim and the home of their friend Yosef Ha'Ramathaim. His elegant house was right off the Sychem road along which the pilgrims walked on the way back to Nazareth. They were on the top of the hill and could see Clopas' group approaching. They wanted Y'shua to join them at Yosef's who had invited them to the noon meal.
"Clopas," Yosef shouted, as his brother neared. "Where is Y'shua?"
"Isn't he with you, brother?" Clopas replied, "I haven't seen him."
"He was supposed to have joined you at the pool before starting for home. It's my fault, I should have known better," said Yosef, obviously worried.
"We have to go back," said Miriam. "The thought of him lost and alone in that city..."
"Don't worry, Miriam, we'll find him. He's a smart boy. He's probably lagging behind along the road."
Yosef and Miriam started back toward Jerusalem carefully checking each group that passed to make sure Y'shua didn't pass by without seeing them. Yosef was more concerned than he let Miriam know. Where could he be? The last twelve years and more had not erased the memories of their escape from Bethlehem and Herod's pursuit of Y'shua. Herod was gone but there was still danger in Jerusalem. Toward evening Yosef and Miriam finally reached the temple mount and climbed the stairs of the Antonia tower. The temple wall was straight ahead of them. Yosef looked to the left and could see a group of men on Solomon's porch. He walked passed the Beautiful Gate to ask the men if they had seen Yisu. As he approached he could hear the conversations and thought he heard Yisu's voice from amongst the group. He nodded one of the elders aside and was astonished to find that it was his son engaging these important men in profound conversations concerning the meaning of scriptures. The surprising thing was that the priests were treating him as a peer. He had even spent the night with them at the council house and had breakfasted there. Miriam caught up to her stunned husband and, with great relief, momentarily listened to the conversation.
"From the way this lad talks and understands, you would think he was the messiah," Eleazar guffawed at his joke and the others joined loudly. Yisu stood silently while Miriam's heart pounded. "Yisu!" she cried out. "Didn't you know we were worried? You were supposed to meet us this morning with your Uncle. We had to walk all the way back not knowing where you were"
"I'm sorry, mother," he said, "but didn't you know that I would be about my Father's business?"
The elders looked at each other, puzzled. Yosef thought to himself, what business? I don't have any more business at the temple. Miriam knew what her son meant and scolded him no more, she smiled, "Come son, bid the good gentlemen farewell. I thank you gentlemen, for taking good care of my son."
All three left the temple portico and walked silently, each engaged in their own thoughts.