Nazareth - 22 Sivan, 3776........June 15, 16 A.D.
Yosef is 63 years old now and ailing. Ever since his eyesight began to fail, about a year ago, Y'shua has had to operate the shop to support the family. Yakub just began his nineteenth year and has joined the Nazirites, a very rigid and sober religious group to which their cousin Yohanan belonged. Nazarites kept themselves secluded most of the time, engaging themselves in continuous prayer and preaching. Y'shua thought that his brother and cousin were too fanatic with their militant pronouncements concerning the Kingdom of God. Yohanan was alone now that Uncle Zechariya and Aunt Elizabeth were gone. Of course, they were quite old when he was born. Yakub was not around to help in the shop much but Y'shua didn't mind. Simon was learning the arts of carpentry quite well. At sixteen, some of his pieces competed with those of older cabinet makers. He still had a lot to learn in masonry but with the end of the building projects in Caesarea there wasn't much of that work anyway. Yehuda was to be Bar Mitzva in two more weeks and Y'shua didn't know how that boy was going to get through the ceremony. Hebrew just didn't come easy to him. If only he didn't have so much mischief in him and would spend more time on his lessons. The youngest, Yosef, was ten and out of all of Y'shua's four brothers and two sisters, was most like their father. He loved to work things with his hands and was content to play in the shop most of the day, fashioning left over pieces of wood into things known only to his imagination. Y'shua rarely went to the synagogue at Mount Tabor since old Reb Aaron died. Most of his scholarly discussions were with Yosef Ha'Ramathaim who still visited frequently. He seemed to get more satisfaction from his time spent alone in the fields around Mount Tabor. There was some unsettling feeling of urgency within him that made him feel frustrated most of the time. What was it? What must he do? He kept getting the feeling that the answer was in the wilderness but he must also spend so much time in the shop. So much has happened in the last few years. Augustus died two years ago and Tiberius is now the Roman Emperor. There's a new Roman Praefect named Valerius Gratus and they have named Eleazar as High Priest. Y'shua remembered Eleazar. He was one of the temple elders he spoke to on his first trip to the temple. Antipas is still Tetrarch of Galilee but spends his time at Machaerus down near the Dead Sea. There just didn't seem to be any stability in anything, just like this feeling deep within him. What is he supposed to do?
Y'shua was busy working on a bed frame for Joiachim the potter when a familiar voice rang out. Yosef Ha'Ramathaim had stopped by for his regular visit. He put down the shaving plane and leaped several steps to the house where Miriam was preparing some cakes and hot honey water. "I'd travel to Kush for one of your cakes," said the merchant who embraced Y'shua as he entered. "Sit down Yisu and tell me the news of Nazareth. Where's Yosef?"
"He's resting," replied Miriam, "He's not having a good day."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Yosef, "but I have some Egyptian tonics in my pack that will have him on his feet in no time. I really came to see Yisu anyway."
"Me?" said Y'shua
"Yes, my friend. Do you remember that long discussion we had the last time I was here?"
"Oh yes," replied Y'shua, gesturing good-natured chagrin, "We talked so late, I could hardly get up the next morning."
"If you recall," continued the merchant, "we talked about the Pharisees and the Sadducees and how they differ and you know about the Nazirites, of course. Well, the other day I stopped at a small community on the upper bank. It was a monastery that needed some lamp oil. These people call themselves `covenanters,' and I had an opportunity to talk with some of them. It seems that their concepts are entirely different from the blowhards in Jerusalem. They have one of the biggest libraries I ever saw, rooms and rooms of scrolls. They let me read one of them called `The Manual of Discipline' which turned out to be their rules. Here, Yisu, I wrote down a passage. Read it to me!" Y'shua took the parchment that Yosef had handed him and began to read in his soft voice. "As for me, if I slip, the steadfast love of God is my salvation forever; and if I stumble in the iniquity of the flesh, my vindication in the righteousness of God will stand to eternity. And in His steadfast love He will bring my vindication. In His faithful righteousness he has judged me. And in the abundance of his goodness, he will forgive all of my iniquities." He silently scanned the parchment again, "They believe like I do that God is not vengeful but loving and forgiving when sin is truly regretted."
"Indeed," said Yosef, "That philosophy was once true of the Pharisees until they became so self-serving and as for the Sadducees, well, I don't think they believe in anything except looking pious."
"Just who are these people anyway?" asked Y'shua, obviously interested.
"They are called Assaya, `Essenes,'" answered Yosef. "The group was founded by someone called the `Teacher of Righteousness' more than two hundred years ago. Yisu, my boy, I've known you since you were the size of a rabbit and have watched your interest in the scriptures grow. There is no more for you to learn in the Galilee and I know you're searching for something. I think a stay at the monastery will help you find the answers you're looking for. I don't know if you're going to be a Rabbi or a prophet or a carpenter but I do know you can profit by what can be learned there."
"I cant leave my mother and father now," said Y'shua, "particularly while Papa is sick, I have to take care of the shop."
"I've thought of that," rebutted Yosef, "Zebedee and Salome want your parents to come live with them in K'far Nahum. Their fishing business is doing real good, you know."
"I would love to be near my sister again," interrupted Miriam, "but Yosef would not allow his brother to support us."
"I thought of that a long time ago," beamed Ha'Ramathaim, with a smile that was a prologue to a long-kept secret.
"As you know, I have made great profits on Yosef's fine furniture all these years and I guess it's time to tell you that I put all those profits away for him. I always told him that if he was as good a businessman as he was an artisan he would be rich. Well, I just acted as his business agent without him knowing. Those profits have earned a lot ofinterest and there's enough for you and your husband to retire in K'far Nahum, even considering that practice of yours of giving so much to the poor. I would like Yakub and Simon to work with me for awhile and Yehuda is old enough to help his uncle in the boats."
"I want to go very much," said Y'shua, "but I just cant consider it while Papa is ill."
"But I want you to go!" came a shaky voice from the doorway. Y'shua's father walked feebly into the room. "I'm getting stronger every day, thanks to those foul tasting potions. I've been wanting to visit old Zebedee for a long time anyway. Yosef, you old fox, why didn't you tell me about those furniture profits. All these years I thought you were putting something over on me."
"Well it's settled then," said Ha'Ramathaim. "Yisu can leave with me tomorrow and go as far as the monastery with my caravan."
Y'shua arose early the next morning, having slept little. He climbed the hill to his favorite spot overlooking his small village. Nazareth was such a small place, home to the farmers who worked the surrounding fields and to artisans who found sufficient work on the many building projects in Sepphoris, Caesarea and the many larger towns of the lower and upper Galilee. The main road from Damascus to Egypt passed only an hours walk to the south and the road to the port city of Accho was the same distance to the north. The Sepphoris road, which connected the two passed through Nazareth. Y'shua's favorite spot was a ledge on the crest of the hill above the village, shaded by an old sycamore. He could sea Mount Hermon to the north as its snow-capped crown reflected the rays of the morning sun. A glance to the right revealed Mount Tabor. Just to the south, the magnificent Plain of Esraelon stretched out like a giant green carpet woven with a tapestry of shades in geometric patterns of cultivation. On a clear day, he could see the pinnacle of Mount Carmel in the west with the reflected sparkles of the great sea beyond. He would miss this place for it was here that he felt most in communion with his Father. "Is this the path you would have me take, Abba?" he asked in a gentle whisper. "Will I be guided by the Covenanters?" After a while, he knew that his family and their merchant friend would be up and preparing for the trip. He descended the hill along the familiar winding path in time to say tearful farewells to his father, mother and brothers. Miriam had bundled extra tunics, a coat and a spare pair of sandals which Yosef had tied to one of the pack animals and they set off on his first trip away from his family. The merchant took his caravan and Y'shua east to the Sea of Galilee and then south on the old Jericho road along the west bank of the Jordan River. They would stop as Yosef traded his wares in the towns along the way. This was the first time that Y'shua got to see Yosef in the conduct of his business. He was impressed by his friend's manner of bargaining with his customers. It was very understandable how Yosef had managed to build a considerable nestegg for his parents.
Their first stop was Scythopolis in the Greek Ten-City region. Y'shua had only recently started to learn Greek and was able to pick up a few words from Yosef's rapid style as he expounded on the quality of his goods. He liked the Greek language, there were so many more ways to say things than in Aramaic. Languages reflect the personality of the people that speak them, he thought. Greeks are very subtle people so their language is subtle. There must be nearly a hundred ways to say just one Greek word by adding various parts to the front or end. That's why Greek was the language of commerce. Aramaic is just like the Judean people, simple and to the point. The trip along the river between Salim and Jericho was full of new sights for Y'shua. They passed the traditional site where his ancestors first crossed to enter the "Land of Milk and Honey." Fishermen seining the banks and all manner of river folk spoke to them along the way. He thought that this life of Yosef's was a very pleasant one indeed. The city of Jericho fascinated him. It was one of the major stops for Yosef because it was the trading center for goods coming from the east. Yosef spent three days here trading purple dye, glassware and all sort of metal works from Tyre for fine fabrics, incenses, medicines and spices from exotic countries in the east. When he returned to Tyre, he would sell these things to the merchant seamen bound for Rome and Greece, buy more Tyrian purple and the cycle would start over again. While Yosef's caravan repacked for the return trip, the merchant and Y'shua hired an ass drawn cart to take them to the monastery. Their destination was only about two leagues south of Jericho on the upper coast of the Great Salt Sea. As they approached the stark and dry surroundings of a long dead riverbed, the midday sun was glittering off the waters of the Dead Sea to the east. On the way Yosef explained some of the customs of the covenanters and how he should approach them. They stopped about a chain from the large wooden doors.
"I'll wait here until you are through the gates," said Yosef. "Do as I told you and they will welcome you."
Y'shua looked a bit hesitant, "Please tell Mama and Papa not to worry."
"Certainly, my young friend. I'll be by again in about four Sabbaths. If you want to leave, I'll take you back to K'far Nahum. If you want to stay longer, I'll take your letters to your family."
Y'shua embraced Yosef warmly, took his pack and walked slowly to the large wooden doors of the cloistery. He looked hesitantly back at Yosef and knocked. After a few minutes, a young man opened the door. He was dressed in a simple girdle of linen and kept his eyes to the ground. "What is your business?" he asked softly. "To enjoy the hospitality of the Brotherhood," said Y'shua, as he had been instructed.
"Please enter," said the young man, "I will take you to the Abba." He used the Hebrew word meaning `father' and Y'shua assumed that he was being taken to the leader of the group. The young man silently led Y'shua through a courtyard and into a large room where other men, dressed in clean white robes, sat writing on large parchment and leather scrolls. None of the men as much as raised a head or glanced at them as they walked by. At the other end of this room, the young man knocked on the door of an adjoining room. "The Abba is in the library filing some scrolls," said the young man. "Enter," came a voice from within. They opened the door and Y'shua saw an old man nearly hidden by a cluster of dusty ceramic jars piled high on a stone table. "This friend would like to be with us a while," said the young man. "Leave him," the old man replied. The younger covenanter left Y'shua standing before the stone table.
"Who are you?" asked the old man.
Y'shua tried to adjust his eyes to the dim light. "I am Y'shua Ben Yosef ha'Notzri," he answered softly.
"What do you seek here, my boy?"
"I seek knowledge of myself and God's purpose"
The old man came from behind the cluttered scrolls and looked in his eyes, he seemed stunned for a moment, his wrinkled face told of years in the fields. His hair was white and thin with yellowish streaks. His beard had obviously never been trimmed but the most striking feature about him were his eyes which looked as if any color that they may have had in them faded long ago. Now they were a pale grey. The old man studied Y'shua's eyes for a long time, impressed that the boy did not display any discomfort at the extended scrutiny.
"I've been waiting for you for a long time, " said the old man.
"Waiting for me? How did you know I was coming?" Y'shua was startled.
"I am Reb Ethan," said the old man without answering Y'shua. "Follow me and share our meal, we will talk later." They filed through what looked like a military barracks which was now empty.
"All of the brothers will be waiting for me, we must hurry."
They went down a long hallway passing many rooms until they came to the dining room where there were many long wooden tables where all the men now sat. Reb Ethan entered the room with Y'shua and led him to his table. He stood for a while with Y'shua beside him. The rest of the men looked surprised but remained totally silent. "Brothers," Ethan announced, "This is Y'shua for whom we have waited." Y'shua was again surprised as there were audible gasps throughout the room. They sat down and he felt the glances of many eyes.
"You see, Y'shua, it is not usual for a stranger to eat at the same table with us until he has been here for several years. You are an exception." He passed a basin of water to him for a ritual washing as the others did the same. The entire community now wore pure white robes, one of which was handed to Y'shua which he wrapped over his tunic. Ethan continued, "You see, Y'shua, we reject possessions in our community. All that a man owns is shared with the brotherhood when he enters our order. Not one of us has more than the other, no poverty and no wealth. As the community fares, so fares the individual. Some of us marry but we consider the conquest of passion as a virtue which is pleasing to God. Our ranks increase through adoption and by the children of the married brothers. We do not swear nor do we speak of profane things during the hours of sunset to sunrise. There will be much that you will learn from our writings. Several things are very important to us. First is the purification by washing. Secondly is this common meal because it is symbolic of our brotherhood and our service to the Most High." A single brother, apparently a baker, passed out individual loaves of bread, setting them before the old man, Y'shua and each man at the tables. Another placed a large dish of meat broth in the middle of each table and within reach of all. "Bless us, O Lord our God, for the products of the earth for the fulfillment of our bodies," chanted Reb Ethan. He then broke the loaf of bread before him and compared the loaf to the "body of Israel" which had been broken by sin. All the brothers then broke their bread and began to eat, dipping the bread communally into the broth. As they ate, Ethan told Y'shua more about the order, "We adhere strictly to the law of Moses and condemn the practices in Jerusalem. The wicked priests of the Temple have forgotten the Law. We are waiting for one other besides you. One who we will call the `Teacher of Righteousness' who who will receive revelation from the Most High on the interpretation of The Writings and The Prophets. He also will receive the List of Names of the Angels. The Teacher will be persecuted by the Wicked Priest and the Man of the Lie during the darkness to come. The Sons of Aaron govern our order until the coming of the Messiah." Ethan paused and looked long at Y'shua. "Our order tries to obtain perfection in all that is revealed of the whole law through practicing truth and righteousness, justice and loving devotion, and walking humbly, each with his neighbor. In this pursuit, we often fail and those that sin must be immersed in water to be purified."
"Tell me," asked Y'shua, "Why did you say you were expecting me?"
Ethan whispered, "Because the Most High revealed your coming long ago. You are the Hope of Israel foretold by Isaiah." Y'shua was stunned. The rest of the meal was finished in silence. After the meal, concluded by another prayer of thanksgiving, Ethan led Y'shua back to the library. After they entered and closed the door to privacy, Ethan continued his proclamation. "Your destiny was chosen by Adonai from the time of beginning. You will learn and understand that destiny here. It is my destiny to teach you and prepare you. Eventually I will pass a secret to you that has come down to me over twenty generations." Y'shua was overwhelmed by what the old Rabboni was telling him.
"Are you saying that I am the Messiah?" he asked. He was searching the old sages wrinkled face and eyes for a validation of what he had long felt but never addressed openly. Not even with his family.
"The Son....of Man....of God!" whispered Ethan.
Y'shua looked around the musty library. Neatly aligned on wooden shelves were hundreds of large cylindrical clay jars more than a cubit in length and a large span in width. He recognized many of the scroll titles written on the jars. There was Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Minor Prophets, the Prophets and Writings. There were many scrolls that he had heard of but never got a chance to read in the limited library at Mount Tabor. Now they were around him within easy reach, Enoch and the Book of Noah, Testaments of Levi and Naphtali, the Book of Jubilees and the Scroll of the Patriarchs. On one shelf of the library were copies of the special scrolls of the order. He read the names to himself, moving his lips slightly, Hymns of Thanksgiving, The Manual of Discipline (that was the one Yosef had read), Book of Mysteries, War Scroll, Benedictions. He saw two particular books which Ethan said he should read, `Florilegium' and `Testamonia.' The old man said something about the Florilegium being about him. Now how could that be? Y'shua studied well into the night until his eyes throbbed with the flickering of the lamp which cast an eerie glow on the parchment and leather scrolls. Some of the scrolls were of beaten copper and were hard to read by lamplight. Some were written in ancient dialects. He would occasionally lift his head and rub his eyes and think of the many tiers of jars, all containing manuscripts that he would eventually read.....How long would it take?