Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt Page 19

Joseph bowed and said no. "We've just come from Alexandria," he said. "We do only skilled work - ."

"But I have skilled work!" said a large well-dressed man. "I have a whole house to finish for my master. Everything was burned - I've nothing left but the foundations."

"We have so much to do in our own village," Joseph said, as we tried to go our way. The men surrounded us, on to us now, wanting to buy the wood in the cart and use us as a team. Joseph promised we'd come back as soon as we could. The name of the rich steward was Jannaeus. "I'll remember you," he said. "You're the Egyptians."

We laughed at that, and we did move on and back to the peace of the countryside.

But that was how we became known - as the Egyptians.

I looked back at the city from the road, where I could see all the busy people under the late sun. And my uncle Cleopas saw me looking. He said,

"You ever look at an anthill?"


"Ever step in one?"

"No, but I saw another boy step in one."

"What did the ants do? They all ran around all over the place, but they didn't leave the hill, and they rebuilt it. That's the way it is with war, little or great. People just go on. They get right up and they go on because they have to have water and bread and a roof, and they start again no matter what happens. And one day you can be grabbed by the soldiers and sold as a slave, and the next day they won't even see you pass by. Because it's over. Somebody said it was over."

"Why must you be the sage for my son?" Joseph asked.

We were walking at a slow pace behind the cart. The donkey was steady.

Cleopas laughed. "If I hadn't been snared by a woman," he said, "I would have been a prophet."

The whole family laughed at him. I even laughed before I could stop myself. And my aunt, his wife, said, "His talk is better than his singing. And if there's a psalm with an ant in it, he will sing it."

My uncle started to sing, and my aunt groaned, but soon we were singing with him. There was no psalm with an ant in it that we knew.

When Cleopas had run out of singing, he said, "I should have been a prophet."

Even Joseph laughed at that.

His wife said, "Start now, tell us whether it's going to rain before we get home."

Cleopas took me by the shoulder.

"You're the only one who ever listens to me," he said, looking into my eyes. "Let me tell you: no one ever listens to a prophet in his own land!"

"I didn't listen to you in Egypt," said his wife.

After we had all laughed at that, even Cleopas, my mother said gently,

"I listen to you, brother. I always have."

"You do, sister, that's true," Cleopas said. "And you don't mind when I teach your son a thing or two, do you, because he has no grandfather living, and in my youth I was almost a scribe?"

"Were you almost a scribe?" I said. "I never heard this before."

Joseph waved his finger at me for my attention and grandly shook his head: No.

"And what would you know about it, brother?" asked Cleopas but his voice was friendly. "When we took Mary up to Jerusalem to commit her to the house where the veils were woven, I studied in the Temple for months. I studied with the Pharisees, I studied with the greatest of them. I sat at his feet." He tapped me on the shoulder to make sure of my attention. "There are many teachers in the Temple colonnades. The best in Jerusalem, and then, well, some of them not so good."

"And some of their students not so good either," said Alphaeus in a low voice that everyone could hear.

"Oh, what I might have been if I hadn't gone off to Egypt," said Cleopas.

"But why did you go?" I asked.

He looked at me. There was silence. We walked on in silence.

Then he smiled kindly. "I went because my kindred went - you, and my sister, and her husband and his brothers and my kin."

No answer to my question - no real answer. But I knew, and had known for some while, that it would be easier to learn things from my uncle Cleopas than from anyone else.

A low thunder rolled overhead.

We hurried, but a light rain caught us and we had to go off the road and into a grove of trees. The earth was thick with rotted leaves.

"All right, prophet," said my aunt Mary, "make the rain stop so we can go on home."

When we laughed, Joseph corrected us. "But you know a holy man can make the rain come and go," he said. "Mark my words. From Galilee, the holy one, Honi, the Circle Drawer, in my great-grandfather's time. He could make the rain come and he could make the rain go."

"And tell the children what became of him," said my aunt Salome. "You leave off at the best part."

"What did happen to him?" James asked.

"The Jews stoned him in the Temple," said Cleopas with a shrug. "They didn't like the prayer he said!" He laughed. Then he laughed more as if he thought this even funnier the more he thought about it.

But I couldn't see to laugh at it.

The rain was coming down harder now, and passing through the branches and we were getting wet.

A tiny thought came to me, so small I imagined it in my mind like a thought no bigger than my little finger. I want this rain to stop. Foolish of me to think such things. I thought of all the things that had happened ...the sparrows, Eleazer - . I looked up.

The rain had stopped.

I was so amazed I stared up at the clouds, unable to do anything, even take a breath.

Everyone was very happy and we made our way out on the road and headed home.

I didn't say a word to anyone, but I was troubled, deeply troubled. And I knew I would never tell anyone what I had just done.

Nazareth was pretty to me when we came back. I loved the little street and the houses of white plaster and the vines that grew on our lattices even in the chill of spring. It seemed the fig tree had put out more leaves even in these few days.

And there was Old Sarah waiting for us. Little James was reading to Old Justus. And the little ones were playing in the courtyard and running through the rooms.

All the sadness and grief of Sepphoris was far off now.

So was the rain.

Chapter 17

That night it was decided that I would stay and work with Joseph on the house, and Alphaeus and his sons, Levi and Silas, and also Cleopas, and perhaps Simon would go into Sepphoris, and there get up a team of laborers from the marketplace. The money was good. The weather was good.

It was further decided that no matter who worked where, we boys would go up to the synagogue where the school was taught, and we'd study with the three Rabbis. Only when they released us would we join the men, probably about mid-morning.

I didn't want to go up to the school. And when I realized that, once again, all the men of the family were walking up the hill with us, I felt afraid.

But then Cleopas had Little Symeon by the hand. And Uncle Alphaeus had Little Joses, and Uncle Simon had Silas and Levi. Maybe it was the way.

When we reached the school, there were three men whom I had seen in the synagogue, and we stood before the very oldest of the men who beckoned for us to come inside. This man hadn't spoken or taught on the Sabbath.

Now he was a very old man and I had not really looked at him before because I was too afraid to do it in the synagogue. But he was the teacher here.

Joseph said,

"These are our sons to be taught, Rabbi. What is it that we can do for you?"

He offered the Rabbi a purse with his hand folded over it, but the Rabbi didn't take it.

When I saw this, I felt sick.

Never had I seen a man refuse a purse. I looked up and saw that the old man was looking directly at me. And at once I looked down. I wanted to cry. I couldn't remember a single word that my mother had said to me that night in Jerusalem. I could remember only her face, and the way that she'd whispered to me. And the way Cleopas had looked on his sickbed there, when he'd spoken and we all thought he was going to die.

This old man had hair and beard that were pure white. I could see even as I stared at the hem of his robes that they were fine wool with their tassels sewn with the proper blue thread.

Now he spoke in a soft and gentle voice.

"Yes, Joseph," he said. "James and Silas and Levi, I know, but Jesus bar Joseph?"

Not a word came from the men behind me.

"Rabbi, you saw my son on the Sabbath," said Joseph. "You know that he's my son."

I didn't have to look up at Joseph to know that he was not himself.

I gathered all my strength. I looked at the old man. The old man looked at Joseph.

I started to cry without making a sound. I couldn't help it. No matter how steady my eyes were, the tears came. I swallowed hard and quiet.

The old man said nothing. No one said a word.

Then Joseph spoke as if he was saying a prayer:

"Jesus bar Joseph bar Jacob bar Matthan bar Eleazar bar Eliud of the Tribe of David who came to Nazareth with a grant for land from the King to settle Galilee of the Gentiles. And son of Mary daughter of Anna daughter of Mattathias and Joachim bar Samuel bar Zakkai bar Eleazar bar Eliud of the Tribe of David - Mary of Anna and Joachim, one of those sent up to Jerusalem to be among the chosen of eighty-four maidens under the age of twelve and one month, to weave the two veils each year for the Temple which she did until she came of age and returned home. And so it's recorded in the Temple, her years of service, and this lineage, and was recorded on the day of the child's circumcision."

I closed my eyes and opened them. The Rabbi looked pleased and gentle and when he saw my eyes on him, he even smiled. Then he looked back to Joseph, above me.

"There's no one here who doesn't remember your betrothal," he said. "And there are other things which everyone remembers. Surely you understand."

Again there was a silence.

"I remember," said the Rabbi, his voice just as gentle as before, "the morning that your young betrothed came out of the house and made a cry in the village - ."

"Rabbi, these are little children," said Joseph. "Is it not for the fathers of the children to tell them these things in time?"

"The fathers?" asked the Rabbi.

"I am the child's father by the Law," said Joseph.

"But where were you married to your betrothed and where was your son born?"

"In Judea."

"What city of Judea?"

"Close to Jerusalem."

"But not in Jerusalem?"

"Married in Bethany," said Joseph, "at the home of my wife's kinsmen there, priests of the Temple, her cousin Elizabeth and Elizabeth's husband Zechariah."

"Ah, yes, and there the child was born?"

Joseph didn't want to say it. But why?

"No," he said. "Not there."

"Then where?"

"In Bethlehem of Judea," he said at last.

The Rabbi stopped and looked to one side and the other, and the heads of those two Rabbis beside him turned towards him. But nothing was said.

"Bethlehem," said the Old Rabbi. "The city of David."

Joseph didn't answer.

"Why did you leave Nazareth and go there," asked the Rabbi, "when the parents of your bride, Joachim and Anna, were failing in age?"

"Because of the census," Joseph answered. "I had to go. I had still a piece of land left to me there in Bethlehem, to which our people returned after the Exile, and I had to claim that land or lose it. I went to register where my ancestors were born."

"Hmmm..." said the Rabbi. "And you claimed it."

"Yes. Claimed it and sold it. And the child was circumcised and his name was inscribed in the records of the Temple, as I've said, and such as they are."

"Such as they are, indeed," said the Rabbi, "until another King of the Jews chooses to burn them to hide his heritage."

At that the other men laughed softly and nodded, and some of the older boys in the room laughed and I saw them for the first time.

I didn't know what it meant. It seemed the bad doings of Old Herod, of which there were no end.

"And after that you went on to Egypt," said the Rabbi.

"We worked in Alexandria, my brothers, and my wife's brother and I," said Joseph.

"And you, Cleopas, you left your mother and father and took your sister to Bethany?"

"Our mother and father had servants," said Cleopas. "And Old Sarah daughter of Elias was with them, and Old Justus was not infirm."

"Ah, so I remember," said the Rabbi, "and you are so right. But how your parents wept for their son and their daughter."

"And we wept for them," said Cleopas.

"And you married an Egyptian woman."

"A Jewish woman," said Cleopas, "born and raised in the Jewish community in Alexandria. And of a good family who has sent you this."

Here came a surprise.

He stretched out his hand with two small scrolls in it, both of them in fine cases with bronze trimming on them.

"What is this?" asked the Old Rabbi.

"You're afraid to touch them, Rabbi?" asked Cleopas as he held out the gift. "Two short treatises from Philo of Alexandria, a scholar, a philosopher if you will, much admired by the Rabbis of Alexandria, and these purchased from published books in the market, and brought to you as a gift?"

The Rabbi stretched out his hand.

I took a deep breath as he took the scrolls.

I hadn't known my uncle had such scrolls. Philo's writings. I hadn't dreamt of such a thing. And to see the Rabbi receive them made me feel so glad that the tears came again but I was as quiet as before.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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