Wadi Qumran - 7 Elul, 3780........August 15, 20 A.D.
Y'shua arose early, having slept little during the night. He was going to go back home in a few days after four years at the community. Where had the time gone? So many scrolls, so many discussions with Ethan. Now it's time to go. He now had a sense of purpose and an understanding. He knew it would be another five years before he would fulfill that purpose. He was anxious to see Ha'Ramathaim who would be arriving early next week to take him back to K'far Nahum. He missed his family very much, although Yosef faithfully picked up his letters all the time he was there. He thought about the honeycakes his mother usually baked for him and even now at 25 years of age, he looked forward to them. Due to the spartan diet of the community, he was thinner than he was when he first arrived but the hard work of the order had made him stronger and he was much wiser. Y'shua knew his mother would fret over his thinner frame. All mothers seemed to want their sons to look overfed and Miriam was no different. He had just finished breakfast with the community and could not help but to have noticed that Reb Ethan had been untypically silent. He whispered to Y'shua, "In a few days you will be leaving us to travel the path your Father has chosen. You have learned much from our library which, along with what God has placed in your heart, will prepare you to follow that path. There is one more thing that you must know. This is a knowledge known only to the leaders here, passed on through all my predessesors to be finally passed to you. I alone possess this great secret which I am charged to pass only to the the Anointed One...you! After this, the secret will go to no one else."
Y'shua was intrigued. "What is this great secret?"
"This is a secret I must show you. We will leave this morning on a journey where I will reveal it to your eyes. It is not a far distance."
Y'shua did not question Reb Ethan further, He knew that this must be something very important to take the Rabban away from the City of Salt. The sun was just beginning to appear over the cliffs of the Wadi as they left the community. Two of the larger Covenanters waited at the gate and would act as bodyguards. Y'shua's curiosity seemed almost tortuous as they walked the path through the Judean wilderness, all the while discussing matters of scripture and prophecy. Reb Ethan talked a great deal about the prophet Jeremiah as they walked and somehow Y'shua knew that this great secret had something to do with that fiery prophet. After several hours, they reached the Jericho road just east of the Temple and passed the fork where the road north led to Jericho and west to Jerusalem. Y'shua had to suppress his usual habit of walking very fast since the elder priest could not keep up and they had to take frequent rest stops. The two brothers that accompanied them remained a number of paces back and kept silent. They passed the village of Bethany and Y'shua remembered that his friend Elazar and his sisters Miriam and Martha lived there but there would be no time for visits. They continued along the well traveled road up the Kidron valley between the Mount of Olives on their right and the city walls and Temple on their left. Y'shua was surprised at the stamina of the old priest who seemed to move along with some great purpose. They turned to the west on the Emmaus Road that skirted the northern wall of the city and then north towards Benjamin. The trumpets signalling the new day could be heard as the walked away from the city. Travelers walking south toward the city would step aside as the four men, dressed in pure white cloaks walked by. The Covenanters were easily recognized and commanded great respect among the people who considered them living saints. They reached the gates of the ancient city of Mizpah by midnight and went directly to the house of Essenes in that city. There they spent the night. Y'shua got little sleep wondering what this great secret could be that would bring Reb Ethan on this long walk, certainly arduous for him. Reb Ethan slept well feeling content and fulfilled. When morning came, Ethan awoke and called Y'shua to hid side. He reached in his napsack and took out a scroll, handing it to Y'shua. "Read where I have marked," he asked.
Y'shua recognized the writing of Jeremiah. He unrolled it until he reached a mark placed there by Ethan and read aloud.
"That Jeremiah went out from Jerusalem to go to the land of Benjamin in order to take possession of some property there among the people."
Y'shua looked up at Ethan, his eyes questioning.
"As you know," said Ethan, "this was during the time of King Zedekiah. The king of Babylon moved against the city and the temple. Jeremiah was imprisoned after being found at the gate of this city being accused of going over to the Chaldeans but Nebuchadnezzar ordered Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guards, to look out after the holy man. Our people were taken to Babylon and the temple destroyed. Now read from the next mark."
Y'shua unrolled the scroll a little more until he got to the next mark. "Then Jeremiah went to Mizpah to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam and stayed with him among the people who were left in the land."
Ethan drew Y'shua near. "The great secret that is essential for you to know is what that property was that Jeremiah brought here. Come! The final part of your preparation is here."
Ethan led Y'shua down the steps of the Essene house and through a corridor. In the rear of the corridor was an ancient iron grate which Ethan had Y'shua move aside. It took most of his strength to break the grate free from it's seat and move it's rusted hinges. Ethan took a lighted torch from the brazier in the corridor and handed it to Y'shua. "Lead the way," he commanded. Y'shua stooped and entered the tunnel which ran under the house on an incline. The air at the bottom was cool and damp and smelled of musty soil. Another passageway led to the right and Ethan gestured for Y'shua to follow it. Y'shua could hear the dripping of water somwhere ahead. He stepped cautiously along the narrow corridor, stooping as he went until he finallt saw an exit lighted by the torch. When he reached the end of the corridor, there was a drop off to a chamber below. The chamber, an old cistern, was filled about knee deep with water and he carefully lowered himself off the ledge feeling the coolness of the water creep up to his knees. He turned and helped Ethan down into the chamber. Ethan placed his hand on Y'shua's shoulder and guided Y'shua to the right. Y'shua could see some more stairs and was required to lift himself over the rim of the cistern to the landing of the stairs which were cut in solid rock. He reached down and lifted Ethan up to the landing and turned to face the stairs. He could see from the light of the torch that the stairs ended abruptly after seven steps and turned sharply to the left. "What we seek is in a grotto at the top of those stairs," whispered Ethan. Y'shua's heart was pounding. The answer to this mystery and this secret was but a few feet away. What could it be? Why is it so important? They climbed the stairs, their robes dripping musky water on the dusty stone. He turned to look into a natural grotto and held the torch aloft to fill it with as much light as possible. He started as his eyes caught the glint of gold. The first thing he saw were wings of beaten gold. He gasped as he recognized the object which sat on a stone platform. Two cherubim knelt toward each other, their heads bowed. Their right wings were stretched toward each other, the tips touching. Their left wings lowered and curved toward each other resembling a seat. The cherubim sat on a lid made of gold and resembling a crown. The chest beneath was also gold. The chest had gold rings in each corner and their were golden staves passed through the rings. Although the chest itself was about two and one half cubits long and one and one half cubits wide and high, the staves extended another four cubits on each side. Y'shua just stared at this apparition for what seemed an eternity. He paled and his breath came in short gasps. "The Ark of God!" he whispered. "How did it get here? Where has it been?"
"This house was built over the site of the house of Gedaliah," answered Ethan. "This is the very spot where Jeremiah hid it over 600 years ago. It's resting place was known only to Jeremiah and his companion Baruch ben Neriya. After Jeremiah's death, it was passed by ben Neriya to the Levite High Priests who decided that the Ark would be restored to the temple only after the coming of the Messiah. Its power could be used by the Anointed One to vanquish the enemies of Israel. When the Romans came, they desecrated the temple and put the evil Herods over the land. They appointed their own high priests from the Sadducees so the secret was no loner passed through the high priests. Eventually the secret was lost except in our community where it had been passed down to each leader by the Teacher of Righteousness. Our instructions have been to pass this secret on only to the Messiah. You will be the last to learn of its resting place."
Y'shua was stunned. His senses filled with the beauty of the Ark and the significance it had for the people of Israel. He noticed a golldlen urn sitting next to the Ark on the stone platform. "What is that?" he asked, drawing closer and holding the torch to read the writing on the urn. The urn was of beaten gold with the image of a cow carefully worked on it's surface. The incised writing was in the ancient script and read, "The ashes of Purification."
"Those are the ashes of the Red Heifer which will be required under the new kingdom to rededicate the temple and to purify it from it's present abomination," said Ethan. "Come now, let us return to the City of Salt."
They traced their steps back through the cistern and the maze of tunnels. Y'shua replaced the iron grate and they quickly left the house. Y'shua's eyed burned under the glare of the sun as they emerged onto the street to meet the waiting Covenanters for the journey back to the Widlerness. Y'shua seemed to be in a daze for the entire trip as he pondered the role the Ark would play in his purpose. Ethan also remained silent, allowing Y'shua to absorb what he had seen. When they finally got back to Irhammelah, it was late and time to retire. Ethan told him that they were the only ones in all Israel who knew where the Ark rested and the fate of the Ark rested solely with Y'shua.
Y'shua slept soundly, exhausted from the travel and the lack of sleep the night before. His dreams were filled with the image of the Ark. He woke early to the sound of animals braying and knew that it was Yosef ha-Ramathaim who had come to get him for the return to the Galilee. He quicky sought out Ethan whom he found in the same place that he had when he first came to this place.
"My friends have come for me," he said to Ethan, his eyes burning with tears.
"We have had many talks," said Ethan, softly, "My life, which nears its end, has been blessed by the Most High for the task of teaching you. You leave knowing who you are and what you must do and the great secret, but the time has not yet come for your destiny. You know that this place will be the place for your followers to come, a place where your followers will reestablish the Law and the Ark to the Temple. From this time on, this will be known as `The Land of Damascus.' What will you do till then?"
"I will live with my parents in the Galilee," replied Y'shua, "and I will use the time to spend with them and ponder the things that I have learned. I can use the solitude of the Galilean hills to keep faith with the Voice within me. That Voice will tell me when to confront the Evil One and to go reinstruct the heart of the land on the meaning of these things. I must go now, Abba, give me your blessing."
"I give it," said Ethan, "and also ask it of you."
Y'shua bade shalom to the community and joined Yosef waiting at the bottom of the hill.
"Yisu, my friend," Yosef shouted, "How are you?"
Y'shua embraced Yosef. "I'm fine, Yosef, I cant thank you enough for bringing me to this place. It doesn't seem like four years since I first knocked on that door though." "More important," said Yosef, "Did you find what you came for?"
Y'shua smiled, "I found it. Now I cant wait to see my family."
"Well, what are you waiting for?" said Yosef, slapping Y'shua on the back. "We'll have you in K'far Nahum in no time. I don't have any stops along the way."
Y'shua mounted the ass that Yosef brought for him and they rose side by side. Riding silently for awhile, he turned to Y'shua, "Apparently I'm going to have to drag it out of you, so what did you find?" Yisu smiled, "I found the answers to two very important questions. Who am I? What must I do? Conflicts in my heart have been put to rest. My study in the community of Covenanters helped me to resolve my differences with the words of the prophets, not that they were wrong for their time, but that time is not now. This is the time for a new covenant."
"What kind of covenant?" asked the merchant.
"A covenant of redemption," replied Yisu. "The old covenant is based on the fear of God and retribution for sin. The new covenant will reveal a loving and forgiving God who will redeem those who give love and obedience. The new covenant will restore the Law to the Temple."
"Will this new covenant offer forgiveness for any sin?" asked Yosef. "Even for the likes of Herod and Archelaus?"
"Yes!" Yisu answered. There was an authority in his voice that impressed Yosef. "All that will be required of the worst of sinners is to repent and love one another." Yosef looked puzzled, "Are you saying that love will come out on top of avarice and greed?" Yisu smiled, his dark eyes flashed the reflection of the sun rising over the Big Salt Sea, "Love is a surer weapon than any sword. It is slower to forge but strikes a harder blow."
Yosef reached over and tousled Y'shua's glistening black hair, "When you teach this new covenant, my young friend, will you speak as a prophet?"
Y'shua shrugged, "I am not sure when the call will come, but when it does, I will speak not as a prophet but as the fulfillment of the prophecies."
Yosef paused for quite a while before he spoke, "I always knew there was something special about you. For all I know, you may even be the messiah himself and I'm not going to ask you if that's true, but the Pharisees expect a messiah with a sword. If, by chance you ARE the expected one and your weapon is going to be love.....well, that's something I want to be around to see."
Except for occasional small talk, both men were largely silent for the remainder of the way to K'far Nahum. Y'shua seemed peacefully preoccupied but Yosef was troubled over the words of his young friend. As a realist, he knew the history of rebuff that has always been dealt to men of God in Jerusalem. Great prophets, now revered in the scrolls, were once stoned or murdered in the temple courtyard. Within such a tradition of infidelity, how would a prophet or messiah of love be received? How will this same Jerusalem that Ezekiel called `the bastard son of sin' and that never kept the old covenant, react to this new one?
K'far Nahum is a peaceful fishing village and trade stop on the northwestern shore of the Lake of Galilee. Small houses line the black stone cobbled slopes of the shore of a small bay. The bare hills of the Gergesene heights rise abruptly from the opposite shore. In the morning, the rising sun casts dancing shadows across hazy shades of pink, purple and gold. The air of K'far Nahum seems always scented with the stinging sweet aroma of the eucalyptus that grows in abundance near the shore. Scattered here and there among the black stones of the beach are the rotting skeletons of small wooden boats. Most of the people in the village earn their living by fishing. Those that do not fish, weave or repair nets, make sail, or build boats. Buyers from all over the Galilee, and even Phoenicia, come to the village with salt wagons to purchase fish. Rarely does a day's catch go unsold in K'far Nahum but recently some of the business has been going to the new city just to the south. It had been built by Antipas while Y'shua was with the Covenanters. Antipas named it after Caesar...Tiberias.
Salome had risen early to fix breakfast for her husband, Zebedee. Her two sons, "Big" Yakub and Johanon, were already rowing their boats heartily to escape the breakwater. She was just about to enter the house when she saw Yosef's caravan approaching from the south. "Miriam!" she shouted, "I think your son is coming home." Yisu saw and recognized his portly aunt just before Miriam bounded out the door and ran down the street to greet him. "Mother!" called Yisu. He ran to meet her and playfully lifted her tiny frame in a crushing embrace. This display of affection between a young man and his mother would be very unusual in Judaea where families were much more stiff-necked and where women, even mothers, were afforded little respect. Galileans, however, were noted for their demonstrations of honest emotion....particularly the anger so easily aroused against Judaean Jews who looked down on Galileans while compromising Jewish principle to accommodate Roman masters.
"I've missed you so much," his mother said, tearfully.
"I've missed you too, mother," said Y'shua, "and Papa and my brothers and sisters. Where is everybody?"
"Well, your brother Yakub is at the synagogue. You know how serious he is about his studies. Simon, Yehudah and Yoses are helping old Matathiah bring in his barley crop. Sarah and Esther are helping Salome with a betrothal party. They'll all be home later. We didn't tell them you were coming home today so it can be a surprise."
"And Papa?" Y'shua looked around anxiously.
"I'm afraid he's not well, Yisu" Miriam looked worried. "He had been in bed for a week with that lung fever. What with his age and all, I'm very worried. If it weren't for those Egyptian medicines that Ha Ramathaim brings, I think we would probably lose him. He's asleep right now but when he wakes you must go in to him. He has been so anxious to see you." Y'shua and Miriam went into the house to find husky Zebedee waiting in the kitchen. "How are you, uncle Zebedee?" asked Y'shua.
"Fit as ever, nephew," replied Zebedee, "though I wish I could say the same for Yosef. Perhaps your coming home will be the medicine he needs." Zebedee had gained some more weight since Y'shua saw him last. Now that his two sons, Yakub and Yohanon and Yonah's two sons Simon and Andrew were capable of operating the fishing partnership, Zebedee had a lot of leisure time. Always a devout member of the P'rushim, he had become an important council member and contributor to both the synagogue at Mt. Tabor and the one in K'far Nahum.
"How is Aunt Salome and my cousins?" asked Y'shua. Miriam busied herself preparing her son's favorite honey-cakes while uncle and nephew chatted.
"Your aunt hasn't changed a bit," replied Zebedee, "she still considers herself indispensable to the social life in K'far Nahum and gets herself involved in every project that comes along. You remember Sa'ul, the owner of the olive press across the street? He's finally getting betrothed and the girl he's going to marry lost her mother in that fever last summer. Your aunt has taken upon herself to take over the arrangements for the betrothal party. Yakub and Yohanon have been working hard with the fishing but I worry about Yohanon, he's so young and impressionable. He's been involved with your cousin, Yohanon ben Zechariya. I hear that he's also going to live with the Covenanters..maybe they'll take some of the fire out of him. At least it will keep him away from Yohanon for a while. You talk to him, Y'shua. You know how he's always looked up to you. He's a good, gentle and righteous boy but he's looking for some kind of direction."
"Yohanon has always been my favorite cousin, uncle. I'll certainly talk to him. Ben Zechariya is a devout and righteous man who has a special purpose and the covenanters will prepare him for that. It might be that ben Zechariya's stern Nazarite manner is too harsh a path for Yohanon's gentle manner. There is a path of gentle tolerance as well as a path of righteous wrath and both lead to Ha-Shem."
Zebedee was both amazed and pleased at the wisdom of his nephew, "Well, my boy, I have to get to an elder's meeting at the synagogue. Give my regards to your father when he wakes up. It's nice having you back again."
"Thank you, uncle."
"Your not going to have some of these fresh honey-cakes?" Miriam asked as Zebedee rose from the table.
"Your honey-cakes are partly responsible for all this," Zebedee chuckled as he patted his generous waistline. "Save me a few for later." Y'shua waved good-bye to his uncle as his attention went to the plate his mother set before him.
"It's been so long since I had one of your meals, Mama. I've been looking forward to this since we left the desert."
Miriam sat and watched Y'shua eat, getting that pleasure that only a mother gets watching her child relish her cooking. Miriam studied her son closely, seeing those different things in manner that a mother understands when her son has grown up. There was a sadness, too...a sadness that came from that `secret knowledge' between her and her son. Yosef understood some but repressed the truth of his son's special purpose. The other children knew nothing of these things. They looked on Y'shua as the firstborn son who would carry on the responsibilities of the family business and household affairs. Y'shua looked up from his plate to catch his mothers studious searching of his face. He noticed the beginnings of unsuccessfully repressed tears.
"Don't worry, Mom, the time has not yet come. I'll be with you for a few more years."
That was all that was said. Miriam and Y'shua's shared understanding never needed discussion and the subject was put to rest for a while longer. Miriam arose and went into the bedroom to check on Yosef while Y'shua finished the last scraps of the honey-cakes he had been dreaming about for four years. He studied the walls of the room, made of the water weathered black basalt white-washed with lime to reflect more light. In many ways, he liked K'far Nahum more than Nazareth. He always enjoyed the visits here. Most of the prominent citizens of K'far Nahum were kinsmen who moved here from Nazareth. There was his mother's sister, Aunt Salome and Uncle Zebedee and his cousins Yakub and Yohanon and Rachel and there was his father's brother Alphai and his two sons, Yakub and Mattathiah Levi. Uncle Alphai was known to his gentile customers by his Greek name, Clopas. Yosef and Alphai were not as close as most Galilean brothers although the relationship had improved in recent years. Alphai's business was currency exchange for the many and varied transactions for Gennasaret fish. His oldest boy, Mattathiah Levi, like his father, spoke Greek and Latin fluently and had taken a job as a customs agent to collect duties on the goods that merchants bartered and sold in the market. Yosef saw this as accommodating the Romans while Alphai saw it as doing what was necessary to insure the Roman controlled commerce remained in K'far Nahum. There had once been talk about moving the fish market to Migdal to make it more accessible to the Galilean highway. Alphai had been instrumental in keeping K'far Nahum as the center of commerce for Lake Gennasaret.
"Your father is awake," Miriam called from the bedroom door. Y'shua turned from his reminiscences and arose, straightening his tunic. He excused himself from his mother and entered the small bedroom. An oil lamp flickered and he could see his father sitting up in bed but well bundled. His father's face was much thinner than he last remembered and his eyes seemed so drawn. The lung fever had taken quite a toll. He tried not to show his shock at his father's appearance. "Yisu, my son," Yosef called him by his little boy's name, "come and hug your Papa."
"Hello Papa," said Y'shua as he leaned over to embrace his father. He could feel how the flesh had withered from his father's once sturdy frame. Y'shua could hold back his tears no longer, "I feel that there's something I should be able to do, Papa, but I don't know what."
"You can accept His will," said Yosef. "I know that I won't be able to get through too many more of these spells and when my time does come, I want you to be able to put the affairs of the house in order before you do that which we both know you must. When that time comes, I will be ready. I've raised five fine sons and two beautiful daughters but we both know that your mission in the world is far beyond our little shop in Nazareth."
"Abba!," said Y'shua with some surprise, "You know?"
"Of course, my son." Yosef whispered. "When your mother and I were married, many strange things were happening. You were born under very strange circumstances followed by events that left no doubt that your future was in the hands of the Most High and not mine. I won't be here when the time comes for you to fulfill the destiny set out for you so for the time being, you are still the firstborn son whom I dearly love. Now that you are home, I want to return to the shop in Nazareth. I'll be strong enough to travel in a few days. You have always been a joy to me Yisu, but I always knew that you weren't going to make ox yokes all your life." Yosef grasped Y'shua hand and squeezed it feebly, "Remember that the father of this world loved you very much. Now tell your mother to come in and I'll tell her we're going home."
Y'shua kissed his father's hollowed cheek and left the room motioning for Miriam to enter.
14 AV, 3786.........July 18, 26 AD
Y'shua watched silently as the stone rolled into place, sealing his father's earthly remains into the hillside tomb. It was one of those dark days and Mt. Tabor was cloaked in clouds stilled by the absence of wind. It was if the great mountain itself was veiled in mourning. It had been nearly six years since they returned from K'far Nahum and Yosef's health improved enough for him to tinker in the shop and teach Simon many of the techniques in cabinet-making for which Yosef was famous. Y'shua continued to make the ox yokes that provided the majority of the family income. Yehuda and Yoses divided their time as apprentices to Y'shua and Simon. Yakub had become a teacher at the synagogue and was always immersed in the study of the law. Sarah and Esther were married and living with their own husbands. Later, many friends and relatives from carpenter's row and throughout Nazareth and the outlying farms dropped in to give their condolences to Miriam. As the eldest son, Y'shua greeted the incoming guests and Aunt Salome, ever busy, served refreshments. As in most mournful gatherings, guests and relatives chatted in whispered tones the news of other passings, weddings, births, failures and successes. Typically, someone would always say "Why does someone have to pass away for us to get together?" When all the guests had left, Salome was still busy rushing from chore to chore, cleaning up and barking orders at Sarah and Esther who dutifully tried to keep up. Miriam sat quietly by the window watching the children of the village play near the well at the bottom of the hill. She thought of the many times she watched her own children playing through that same window while Yosef worked below in the shop. Little Yoses always seemed to manage to fall into the pool and had to be retrieved. Y'shua put his hand on Miriam's shoulder but both were silent. Both realized that the death of Yosef marked the time when Y'shua would go "about his father's business" as he said so many years ago. Y'shua spent the following weeks putting family affairs in order and turning the responsibilities over to Simon. Normally these duties would have fallen to Yakub who was the next eldest but Yakub's path, like Y'shua's led elsewhere. Both paths seemed so separate now but would someday come together.
4 HESHVAN 3787......October 5, 26 AD
Miriam stood at the top of the hill and watched Y'shua with that hurried lope of his taking the road toward K'far Nahum, his Galilean pig-tail swayed with each stride. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she recalled the words of old Simeon at his presentation...."A sword shall pierce thine own soul." She knew that whatever happened from this time on was in the hands of the All Knowing and that she was letting her son go to fulfill whatever special destiny was in store. Y'shua knew that he must go first to Yohanon ben Zechariya. His grandmather, Hannah, and Yohanon's mother Elizabeth had been very close, so close that they considered themselves kinsmen even though Elizabeth and Zechariya were Levites and Y'shua's family was from David's tribe of Judah. Yohanon had returned from the covenanters, the "desert" as many called it, just as Y'shua had over six years ago. Yohanon was calling the people to His Name to purify them with the waters of baptism. Y'shua knew that he had to go to Yohanon to be baptized and that he would go into the desert and the wilderness to get the final realization of his destiny and to purge any remnants of worldliness. Yohanon ben Zechariya looked up at the people that had gathered on the river bank. Most were the Am-ha-Aretz from the Galilee but there were also members of the P'rushim and Tsadokim and a few of his former brothers from the monastery in the desert. He had learned much from the Tsenaim but disagreed with their philosophy of isolation. The covenanters believed themselves to be an elite priesthood whose messages were read in secret. Yohanon believed that the people of Israel should be prepared for the coming of the Messiah. Only those who repented their sins and made straight the path would be saved for the new kingdom of the Lord. "The axe will be taken to the root of those trees that do not bear the fruit of repentance and they shall be cast into the fire!" Yohanon's voice thundered. "Come and be baptized with the water of salvation but one comes after me who will not baptize with water but with fire."
He stood waist-deep in the green-brown river. His unkempt and uncut hair and beard was tawny with reddish highlights that flashed in the sun as if set with the same fire that burned in his eyes. His voice was like thunder, seeming to roll in from some distant place then booming almost painfully on the ears. A number of onlookers, moved by Yohanon's words and hopeful for the coming of the long awaited saviour of Israel, went down to the river bank and waded to the baptist to be purified. They formed a long queue as Yohanon would cradle them and gently immerse them into the slowly moving, cool water of the Jordan. Yohanon took them one by one, glancing disdainfully at the richly attired elders who remained on top of the river embankment. They looked down at the ritual being performed and whispered to each other as if the activity below was arranged only for their amusement. Yohanon shouted to them, pointing his finger accusingly, "And what about you, you generation of vipers? Who warns you to save yourself from the coming wrath?" His rage abated, he turned and found his eyes locked on the face of the next supplicant for baptism. Suddenly he knew that the single moment for which he was born had arrived. All the early years of confusion, searching and study were now manifest in a single convergence of two souls.
"I know you!" he whispered, brushing back his unkempt hair with a trembling hand. "You're Y'shua. We used to play together. It's you! All these years that I've been waiting, and it's you?"
Y'shua reached out and grasped Yohanon's hand. "Baptize me, my old friend."
"I cant baptize you! Would that I was worthy that you would baptize me!"
"There is no other man more worthy," whispered Y'shua.
The crowd on the bank and the line of repentants grew curious. "But you must baptize me now, righteousness must be fulfilled." Yohanon placed his arm behind Y'shua and lowered him backward into the water, lifting him the moment he was completely submerged. Beads of water glistened in Y'shua's oiled black curls and his wet tunic clung to his body. Words seemed unnecessary as both men knew each others purpose. A white dove suddenly flew from the eastern bank and seemed to hover over their heads. Some of the crowd thought they heard distant thunder while others felt a stirring inside. Many later reported hearing words vibrating from within, "This is my son, whom I love and with whom I am pleased." Y'shua put his hand on Yohanon's shoulder and gave him a look of assurance as he turned and walked out of the river and up the embankment. Yohanon turned to the crowd and shouted, "Behold the lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world." The crowd gasped and followed Y'shua with their eyes. Y'shua followed the river south into the desert wilderness where he knew his final testing waited. The escarpments and canyons of the desert near the dead sea would be fitting and lonely territory for the solitary battles that lie ahead. Forty days after his birth, he had been taken to the temple and dedicated to God and now forty days must again pass from the rebirth of his baptism to his coming forth. He walked and climbed for days sleeping where he could in the shade of overhanging rocks. His tunic was browned with the fine dust of the desert. His lower legs scratched and bleeding from the thorns and his fingers raw. The only living things he saw were an occasional yellow scorpion, known for their deadly sting, and a vulture or two soaring hopefully on the rising hot air...air so hot it parched the throat with each breath. Y'shua sat on an overhang looking over the canyon and could see the shimmering waves of heat distorting the shapes of the multicolored strata of the opposite wall. Below his feet was a conglomerate of stones once rounded by ancient rivers.
The voice seemed to seep like a snake from the cracks in the cliff, "If your really the Son of God, turn those stones into bread and satisfy your hunger."
Y'shua didn't have to give voice to the words that filled his thoughts, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." He leaned back against the wall of the cliff and could see himself on the Temple Mount overlooking the Kidron valley...the very spot where, in his youth, he once spoke to the elders about God's covenant and the impending redemption. He could look far down in the valley and see the forest of graves of those who expect to be the first to rise at the last judgement. The voice came again, "Go ahead, jump off! The angels will catch you. They will see that you don't as much as stub your toe on one of those rocks."
Y'shua again found himself on the cliff by the dead sea. "It is written that you will not tempt the Lord." He got up and climbed even higher until he was on the very pinnacle of the cliff. He looked around and could see in his mind's eye the whole of Judaea and the north. He could see the beautiful sea coast of Yophe and the green valleys of the Galilee. He could even see beyond the great sea to far away lands....and the voice came again.
"You can have all these lands and the riches in them if you will kneel down and worship me."
Y'shua arose and put the voice behind him. "It is written that you shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only," he shouted. The words echoed throughout the canyon seeming to bounce from every crag. Deep in the valley a flock of bickering vultures lifted from the carcass of an onager. The dust cloud stirred by their wings seemed to resettle just as the final reverberated syllable of Y'shua's words faded. The voice that was taunting Y'shua was gone. He waited a little longer for another challenge but there was only the sound of the wind singing through the rocks. Y'shua rose from the rocky spur and began the tiresome trek to the head of the wadi, hardly realizing that his forty days had past. He was very weak and had lost considerable weight. He made his way to the monastery of the covenanters where he was tended by the brothers who referred to themselves as "the angels of light."
In a few days, he was ready to start his journey back to the Galilee. He followed the Jordan to the great lake and began to teach along the way. Everywhere he taught, he healed those in the crowd that were afflicted with various illnesses. He made a blind man in Migdal see again and cleansed a leper on the road to K'far Nahum. People began to come from all over the Galilee and from Judaea and the Ten Cities to be healed and hear him speak. He never worried about what he would say or how he would say it, the words always came. They came from depths within him that seemed to be opened up for the first time. It was if an ancient amphora of wine had lain in the dust for hundreds of years, a colorless container of clay suddenly opened to pour out its rich and delicious liquid for the thirsty of Israel. What a thirst there was! Like the wine being poured on parched desert sands, so were his words absorbed by those who gathered around him. It was not long before word of Y'shua reached Nazareth and now it was time to go home and pour some of the wine for his family and neighbors, for those who knew him and watched him play as a child. They were thirsty too, but would they drink from this cup?
The synagogue at Mt. Tabor somehow looked different to Y'shua now. You could stand on the portico and look down at the village of Nazareth nestled between the hills like a child in the arms of its mother. It was here that Reb Aaron taught him to read and write. It was in the library of this synagogue that he first read the scriptures for himself, in fact the Isaiah scroll now cradled on his arm was the very one over which he toiled as a child. It was written on such fine quality skin that it would still be years before it would begin to fray and be taken to a genizeh. His friend Yosef ha-Ramathaim had acquired it in Alexandria and donated it as he had most of the library, including the Torah kept in the ark. Yosef had also endowed the expenses of this synagogue when the temple elders had considered closing it for lack of revenue. There were many memories here for Y'shua, the lessons of Reb Aaron, the taunting of classmates who thought little Yisu was too serious. Why does it look different now? Nothing has changed. Y'shua adjusted his prayer shawl over his head and climbed the few stairs to the high place and looked out over the men of Nazareth. These were his friends and neighbors. Some were relatives. They had all heard about Y'shua and his teachings and wondered what it was that he was saying that made him so famous. Until now, no one from Nazareth ever became famous. Most people didn't even know where Nazareth was. Spooling the scroll of Isaiah, Y'shua rested it on the reading stand, specially made for reading scrolls and made by the hands of his own father, and began to read. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord!"
Everyone in the room was silent, eyes closed, head bowed and nodding affirmatively as Y'shua handed the scroll to the elder to put back in the library. Y'shua descended the few stairs and sat in the seat reserved in front for the speaker. He had chosen one of the prophecies of the great Isaiah which promised of the Messiah and the coming of the "year of the Lord" which would herald the new beginning for Israel. Everyone in the room knew this passage by heart because they were all P'rushim, Pharisees, whose beliefs centered around the expectation of the Messiah....God's anointed deliverer. The silent meditation of the room was then broken by Y'shua's words. Sitting with head bowed, he knew the impact his proclamation would have on the assembly. Until now everything had been preparation. The moment had come as the metallic baritone of his Aramaic echoed throughout the synagogue, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears!"
Everyone looked at each other inquisitively. What did he mean? Does he believe that somewhere in the land the Messiah lives? They were all surprised at the eloquence and graciousness of his words and the authority in his voice. Metatha, the linen merchant, leaned over to Amos who, as the brother of Y'shua's uncle Zebedee, was considered kin...."Isn't this Yosef the carpenter's son? Is he the one the Y'shua that we have heard so much about?"
Y'shua stood and faced the assembly, "You are surely going to say to me the proverb `physician, heal yourself' because we have heard about the things you did in K'far Nahum and want you to do those things here also. As a truth I say to you, No prophet is accepted in his own homeland. Part of that truth was the time when there were many widows in Israel during the time of Elias when the skies were closed for three years and six months and there was great famine. But Elias was not sent to any of them except to a widow woman in Sarepta, a city of Sidon. There were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha but none of them were cleansed, only Naaman the Syrian." There were some in the synagogue that knew what Y'shua meant. Y'shua had always, even as a youngster, expressed his chagrin over the fact that all the great prophets were persecuted, stoned, and even killed by their own people. The words of those prophets are now repeated with great piety by the descendents of those who murdered them. Many of the elders in the synagogue missed the point, however, and were furious that Y'shua would refuse his neighbors what rumors held he did for strangers. They started to shout and curse at him, calling him a false prophet. Several of the more rowdy members grabbed Y'shua by the tunic and pulled him roughly from the building to a point not far from the portico that overlooked the valley. The winding road which descended the mountain passed the synagogue and took a sharp hair-pin turn, continuing its descent a hundred feet or so below the overlook where the rowdy group pulled him. A burly, tow-headed man seemed to lead the small group. Ezra was the youngest son of Jesse, a carpenter who lived and worked two doors down on "carpenter's row" from Y'shua's own house. Ezra never liked Y'shua, even as children. Y'shua had always seemed to be everything that Ezra wanted to be. Y'shua was a firstborn with all the privileges that the Jewish family placed on that status. Ezra was the youngest, always having to be last in everything. Y'shua had the opportunity to go to the synagogue school and be taught to read and write by Reb Aaron, unprecedented for a Tekton's son, while Ezra had to be content with what few letters and ciphers he could learn on his own. Then there was the difference in their physical appearance. Ezra was shorter and always overweight. His facial features could have passed for plain had it not been for a pox which left its typical scars. Y'shua was always considered the most handsome boy in the village. All the girls would whisper and giggle as Y'shua passed while Ezra was the object of taunts or, worse, ignored. Now here was the object of his lifelong envy being acclaimed as a prophet of Israel, perhaps even the Anointed, and again serving as an example that made Ezra feel his inadequacies. It was Ezra's small group of friends, a coterie of non-achievers who blamed their lack of success on others, who now gathered menacingly around Y'shua. "Let's not break tradition," jeered Ezra. "Since the prophets are always persecuted by their own people, let's just throw `prophet Yisu' off this cliff and be done with it." The half-dozen malcontents began shoving at Y'shua and shouting while Ezra kept a firm grasp on the sleeve of his tunic, ever pulling him towards the edge of the precipice. They all encircled Y'shua so he could not move in any direction other than the pinnacle. The group seemed to hang in that gray area of mob behavior that loosely determines whether cruel taunting escalates to murderous violence when suddenly they were startled by the realization that Y'shua wasn't there anymore. Ezra's pudgy, freckled fingers which held tightly to Y'shua's tunic, now held nothing but were still clasped firmly together. It was Ezra who first looked over the side to the east to see, far in the distance, a figure striding on the road toward Lake Gennasaret.