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©  Copyright 2016, Gary Tillery







The Gospel According

to Mary Magdalene




G. G. Tillery






[If you prefer to dive directly into the story, simply keep reading. However, The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene is not a conventional novel. If you want a richer reading experience—that is, a fuller understanding of its nonfiction aspect—I urge you to read some text I will include in the printed version. Click HERE.]


                                                Key Names


        Yeshua/Yeshu                         Jesus

        Mariamne of Magdala            Mary Magdalene

        Ioannes Marcus                       John Mark, writer of the Gospel

        Maria/Maryam                        Mary, mother of Jesus

        Yosef                                       Joseph, husband of Mary

        Yochanan the Baptizer            John the Baptist

        Zecharyah                               Zechariah, father of John the Baptist

        Elisheba                                  Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist

        Moshe                                     Moses

        Herodes Antipas                     Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great

        Yosef bar Kayafa                    Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest

        Pontios Pilatos                        Pontius Pilate

        Hanan                                     Annas/Ananus, former high priest

        Chouzas                                  Chuza, steward to Herod Antipas

        Yoanna                                    Joanna, wife of Chuza

        Sousanna                                 Susanna, follower and supporter of                                                                    Jesus

        Yehosef of Harimathaia          Joseph of Arimathea

        Nikodemos                              Nicodemus

        Ioannes the Priest                    John, the Gospel author (“the                                                          -Beloved”)

        Yoseh                                      Joses, brother of Jesus



                                    The Twelve:

           Shimon/Kefa                           Simon/Peter

           Andreas                                   Andrew, brother of Peter

           Yacob                                      James, son of Zebedee

           Yukhanan                                John, son of Zebedee

           Nathanael                                AKA Bartholomew (Bar-Tolmai)

           Philippos                                 Philip

           Yehuda Thomas                      Judas Thomas (“the twin”)

           Mattiya/Maththaios                Matthew

           Yacob                                     James, brother of Jesus (“the Just”)

           Shimon                                   Simon, brother of Jesus (“the                   -Zealot”)

           Yehuda/Thaddaios                  Juda/Jude, brother of Jesus
                 (AKA Lebbaeus)

           Yehuda of Kerioth                  Judas Iscariot

           Matia                                      Matthias (replaced Judas Iscariot)



1                 To all followers of The Way.                                      


I want to tell all I know about Yeshua.

As one who walked with him and listened to him teach, who watched as he was crucified, and as the one who discovered his empty tomb, I want to share what I know to be true with all the communities that recognize him as messiah and wait in faith for his return.     

I am Mariamne of Magdala, known to all as his companion. Rachel, my young friend, my consolation, is writing down my words in the language of Hellas, even though I am speaking the way I am most comfortable, in the tongue of Aram. Coming from an educated family, a Levite, Rachel has the skills of a scribe, but, just as important, a feeling for what I want to express.

From both of us, our warmest greetings to the brothers and sisters in Pella and Damascus, who cared for us when we fled Jerusalem. That we survived the horrors of those final months is almost beyond our power to understand. That our lives were spared on the day the Romans overran the holy city is truly a miracle, as much a demonstration of the mysterious powers of the Lord as were the wonders Yeshua performed when he was with us. I will tell it fully in its proper time.

Ioannes Marcus begins his story of the good news with the immersion of Yeshua in the waters of the Jordan by Yochanan the Baptizer. Being more advanced in years than Marcus, I have a longer view. To me the story of Yeshua did not begin when he was almost thirty. I would not even grant that it began with his birth. How can the story of a messiah be lifted out of the tribulations of the nation that produced him? His own life flows out of the long tragic history of the Jews, for it is to end that tragedy with triumph that this messiah came to lead us. 

The book written by Marcus—which I heard last fall in Antioch, in the year after Jerusalem was destroyed—ends with the empty tomb. He does not speak of the decades of sorrows that came after. To me that is also a part of Yeshua’s story.

The Lord has blessed me with an uncommon memory. What I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears remains with me, no matter how many years pass. I need only close my eyes to see Yeshua standing at the base of a slope on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, bringing light to those in darkness, speaking in that mysterious, commanding manner of his. I can see him pausing on the road up to Jerusalem, cupping his hand in the Jordan River to bring water to his lips. Of course, there are memories not so pleasant. I can also see him twisting in agony in the midday sun. And I can recall the anguished look in his eyes the last evening I saw him at liberty—that evening at Gethsemane before Yehuda brought the Temple guard to seize him—and the awkward silence when I revealed the secret I had withheld from him. It is all still with me.

What I did not see myself I know from those who knew: his mother Maria; Yacob and his other brothers; Shimon called Kefa and others of the twelve; Nikodemos and Ioannes the priest, who knew the private thoughts of the Sanhedrin; and Chouzas, who knew the words of Herodes Antipas and Pilatos. There were also others who felt sympathy and shared their stories with me over the years.

Rachel interrupts to ask if I intend to share the things I have never shared with anyone—about living with Yeshua as his woman; about my treatment by the twelve, who were jealous that he kissed me on the mouth in front of them. Yes, Rachel, as much as I dare, as far as the spirit allows me.

But I have other reasons for undertaking this work. Who among us would have believed that Yeshua would delay his return for so long? What if we misunderstood when he said that those standing around him would not taste death before the kingdom was established on earth? He said it plainly, but we all know that he loved to speak in riddles. This last Passover completes thirty-six years since he left us. So much has happened and so much has been forgotten. If all of us fall asleep before his return, who will explain to those who thirst for it the story of his coming and of what happened after?

I have the example of the book Marcus wrote from the memories of Shimon called Kefa. I feel a duty to set down what I know. I feel a debt to Yeshua. If he did not have the power he possessed, if he did not drive from me the demons who had taken control of my life, I would have lived out my days on this earth as a worthless husk. If he had not reached inside me and touched my soul, I would have remained a lamp discarded in a forgotten corner, never to be used and never to feel the joy of light. Yeshua’s love rescued me and changed my life.

I will tell what I know; but I want to tell it in my own way.



8     Yeshua — The Aramaic version of the Hebrew name Yehoshua; in English, Joshua. He became known by the shortened form of his name, Yeshu. The Gospels, written in Greek, rendered this as Iesu, and to make the word masculine added an “s.” Languages other than Greek tended to render the “I” as a “J” and he became known in English as Jesus.

8     who watched as he was crucified — TJS, Mark 15:40.

8     the one who discovered his empty tomb — Mark 16:1.

8     Rachel, my young friend, my consolation, — The author’s invention, a girl Mary met in Jerusalem before its fall.

8     the way I am most comfortable, in the tongue of Aram. — Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, 45. While Galileans probably knew some market Greek, their everyday language was Aramaic, a Semitic tongue similar to Hebrew.

8     Ioannes Marcus begins his story — Mark 1:1-9. The text of “Mark” was published anonymously and circulated that way for perhaps a century before being attributed to him by early Christian scholars. For Mary to know he was the author presupposes personal knowledge.

9     How can the story of a messiah — “a” messiah as opposed to The Messiah. As used by ancient Jews, the word “messiah” meant a ruler believed to be anointed—that is, installed—by God. See Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 158. See also the footnote to Isaiah 45:1 in The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV), where the reference to Persian King Cyrus as “his anointed” is explained.

9     which I heard last fall in Antioch, in the year after Jerusalem was destroyed — Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots, 225, 227, 242. Brandon deduces in his chapter, “The Markan Gospel,” that Mark wrote his account of the deeds of Jesus (which most scholars agree was the earliest) in the wake of the triumph celebrated in Rome in the year 71 by Vespasian and his son Titus. I envision Mary Magdalene hearing a copy of his document read in an Antioch synagogue later that year.

9     ends with the empty tomb. — Mark 16:8. The earliest surviving text of Mark includes no resurrection story, concluding with the words “for they were afraid.”  Verses 8-20 were added by a later copyist and have become the standard closing for the chapter. Another, shorter ending exists. (See The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Third Edition, NT, 91, and footnotes.)

10    he kissed me on the mouth in front of them. — Gospel of Philip, verse 55, found in Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 42. The word “mouth” is unreadable in the ancient text, but is implied.

10    would not taste death — Mark 9:1.

10    This last Passover completes thirty-six years — I imagine Mary writing in the year 72, 36 years after the crucifixion date used in this book. I use the word Passover instead of the Hebrew Pesach for the sake of the general reader.





2                   How my demons brought me to Yeshua.                               


As shameful as it is to me, I must first reveal how the seven demons came into me, the demons Yeshua alone had power to drive away. For if I try to hide my shame, how then can I tell how he changed my life and how I came to be his companion and learn his innermost thoughts?

I am a child of Galilee. I was born and grew up on the western shore of the Lake of Gennesaret, which many call the Sea of Galilee, in the village of Magdala. Because fish are plentiful in the waters there, most of the men make their living by fishing. My father, however, was a goat herder. He tended a small herd of our own, grazing them together with a much larger herd owned by a wealthy man who lived in a large stone house in the village. For this care of his herd, the man gave my father a portion of fish and vegetables every week from the great quantity his wife purchased in the market in Magdala.

I was raised as an only child. My mother sometimes spoke of a brother of mine, stolen away when he was five and I was still two months from being born into the world. No one ever learned what became of him, but in those days outlaws from Trachonitis raided into Galilee and sometimes took children—and even adults—to sell into slavery. So just the three of us, my father, my mother, and I, lived in a small hut on the northern edge of the village.

Our ancestors were Greek, which is why the brother I never knew was named Philippos and my parents called me Mariamne, the Greek version of Miryam. Yet we thought of ourselves as Galilean and we spoke the tongue of Aram, except those times when we needed to be understood by some person who did not speak it.

My mother was taken by a fever when I was but nine years old. My memories of her are the same as most people who have loving mothers—warmth, tenderness, softness, security. Her loss meant the end of the sweetest part of my childhood.

My father was more distant from me, no doubt because I was a daughter. Had I been a son, I believe he would have found it more natural to include me in his life, as a father is inclined to share with his son to prepare him for manhood.

My being a girl was also the chief cause of the hateful turn my life took, the turn that caused my great shame. Several weeks after we had returned my mother to the earth, as the two of us were preparing for sleep, my father called to me, “Come here, child.”

Just those three words came to me out of the darkness, and I will never forget them. They so clearly divided my old life from my new that they still burn in my memory. When I dutifully went to his side he placed an arm around my waist and gave me a kiss on the cheek—“Do you love your father?”

What happened next still causes me pain, my torment increased by my uncommon gift for remembering.

My love for my father could never again be the same, and the following morning I could not bring myself to look at his face. At last, after he left to take the goats out to graze, suffering through feelings that I could not understand, I began to deny to myself that the terrible thing had happened to me. It occurred to me that I, an only child, had an older sister named Sarah. She was much harder than I could ever be, more capable of accepting what had happened. My father had called to her, not me. I took solace in knowing that she was with me and I was no longer alone in the house. When my father came home that day, later than was his custom, it was Sarah—the sister in me—who greeted him.

We went on that way through the winter months, Sarah fulfilling the role my mother had filled, I continuing in my broken childhood. As our hut was on the edge of the village of Magdala and we spent most of our time by ourselves, Sarah kept growing in strength. I did not mind.                

Near our hut there was another in which lived a man and his wife—a woman named Rivka who was childless, having lost two in childbirth. Knowing that I had been left alone after the death of my mother, Rivka welcomed me to visit her whenever I chose.

From time to time I visited her house during the day when my father was away. I was very awkward around her at first. When I found myself stumbling on words, Sarah would interrupt and make comments that embarrassed me. Once Rivka was speaking of her great sadness over losing two children at birth and never having others and Sarah said something cruel that caused me to run out the door before she could say more.

Then there came a moment when Rivka was preparing lentil soup in a large kettle and something came out of my mouth that made her laugh so heartily that she had to sit down. I thought to myself, “Who said that?”—and I distinctly heard a voice reply, “Leah.” Because she made Rivka laugh, I welcomed Leah and let her speak on my behalf when I went to visit. I liked Leah very much. She never seemed to be troubled and her world was forever sunny. If sometimes it was difficult to restrain Sarah from making sharp and hurtful comments, Leah at least knew how to return us all to a happier mood.

Two summers later a friend of my father’s who had moved to Tiberias to work walked back to Magdala for a visit. He approached our hut late one afternoon, a swarthy man with the unlikely smell of some kind of sweet oil. I remember the moment clearly. The man leaned toward my father, one elbow upon our small table, speaking about the wages being paid in Tiberias. Though much of the city was already complete, many workmen were still needed to finish grand new buildings and avenues. “There’s more to be made there in one season of construction than you’ll make here in five years.”

My father gazed at the floor, stroking his beard. “I don’t know.”

“Well, consider,” the man said. “What is there here for you?”

My father considered. After a pause, he answered, “Goats.”

A week later father sold the goats and loaded all that we owned into a two-wheeled cart with long handles. He was a small-minded man who did not like to think of others profiting from his labors. He put a torch to our hut, and the last memory of my childhood is the sight of dark smoke and flakes of ash wafting above yellow flames.

Tiberias was a disturbing place. The city churned with more people and more activity than I dreamed possible. At the market, Greek traders mingled with Phoenicians, Arabs, Judeans and Idumeans. On occasion I saw Samaritans, and once I even saw four wealthy Persians—men whose finely curled hair and beards and strange clothing gave them an unearthly appearance. I also first saw Roman soldiers there, looking fierce and confident in dark leather with armor that gleamed. Where Magdala had only one small inn with a few rooms and a few tables, Tiberias had several large ones just in the area of the market, including two with taverns that remained open until hours after the sun had set and most residents had gone to bed.

Now at the age of beginning my womanhood, I was uncomfortable and afraid in the city. My father would work every day except Shabbat from sunrise to sunset. Being unaccompanied, and pleasing to the eyes of men—so I was told, I drew attention from them. Within weeks, Julia and Hypatia came to speak for me. Julia could speak only a few words of Latin, yet she was quick to berate the Galilean construction workers when they were too familiar with me. Hypatia spoke Greek more easily than I ever had and dealt with the buyers and sellers in the market, and when she made mistakes that confused them or caused them to smile, she did not seem to lose confidence or her sharp tongue. 

The two grew bolder with time and began to contend with Sarah and Leah. Seldom was I Mariamne. Before the end of my first year in Tiberias I discovered that I had lost influence over the girl-spirits who resided in me. I never opened my mouth without concern, always unsure which of them would utter the words.

Because he lived with me, my father could not fail to recognize that I was not right. The change disturbed him so greatly that he ceased to care for me in a fleshly way. Strangely, he began to care for me again as a daughter, to bring home foods and trinkets that he thought might amuse me. I was grateful for the change in him, but it did nothing to help me regain control over the demons or restore my tenderness for him.

My fate was made clear to me one summer day when I visited a Cypriot fortune-teller who lived outside the city in a cottage that stood on a bluff beside the sea. I had heard people speak of her in the market and I was desperate to know my own future. Sarah and Hypatia kept interrupting me in my questions—insisting that she answer theirs. The old woman stared at me strangely until finally she gripped the amulet that hung around her neck on a leather cord and made three passes between her face and mine. “You are possessed by demons,” she said simply.

The moment she said it I knew in my heart that she was speaking the truth. Then she told me to leave. She handed back my coin and would talk no further with me. 

To suspect that you are possessed is one matter; to have someone you respect recognize it as truth is another. Now I knew. In the next few weeks, I was haunted by my fears. At length I found that I could no longer live such a fearful life. There was nothing I could do, so it ceased to matter to me if Sarah, Leah, Julia, or Hypatia came and departed as they pleased. It was my fate.

Then came the day when my father went out early on the lake, thinking to catch some fish before starting his work on the columns of a large new building. Late in the morning his friend Saul came to let me know that my father had fallen out of his boat, become tangled in some netting, and drowned before anyone missed him.

Uriah came that day—the first male spirit, and the fiercest of them all.

The next several weeks, as I struggled to learn how to live in the city without my father’s guidance, brought Adam and Deborah. Both were wily and both could lie openly without feeling troubled in the slightest.

In all, seven demons came to inhabit me. Some people I met feared being near to me, never knowing what strange thing I might say or do. But to those who knew me I was harmless—a nuisance, at times an object of ridicule. I survived by begging in the market or running errands for the merchants—delivering messages or products to others in the city.

At the mercy of my demons, a girl of fourteen without skills and having no protector or family, I was in danger of falling into a life of sin. But then the Lord drew his arm around me.

I was wandering in the market one day when I noticed Rivka. Her husband had recently passed on. With no family to take her in, she faced the choice of becoming a beggar or trying to put to use her skill as a weaver. She started to make fabrics and had brought a cartload of them to Tiberias to sell. Fortunately for me, Leah spoke for us all that day and Rivka took pity on me. Unhappy living alone, she invited me to stay with her in her cottage in Magdala. I accepted immediately and sold all of my father’s possessions and moved back to live with her. 

Most of the days we spent together we were content. When I was Mariamne or Leah, I would help her with her work. Being of a kind disposition, she tolerated my spiteful demons and we often spent time in prayer asking the Lord to forgive me of my sins and rid me of my curse.

Years passed and we grew more comfortable together. For me, Rivka filled the place of the mother I could scarcely remember; for her, I was the daughter she never had. Like a true mother, she worried that I would never find a husband. She encountered young men in the market who asked about me. They were attracted, she said, by the unusual luster of my long hair and the look of my eyes, which men seemed to think of as demure. She would arrange for them to meet me and without fail I would alarm them at our first conversation, some innocent comment of theirs sparking the ire of Sarah or Deborah, who made sure to drive them away.

As time went by, my heart began to ache with secret despair. I watched young men who appealed to me pair up with girls younger than I and wed them. Theirs was a simple happiness that I could never foresee enjoying myself.

One afternoon, when I was about to enter my twentieth year, a Greek trader passing through Magdala on his way to Tiberias stopped in front of our cottage to ask for water. Hypatia greeted him in her market Greek, but when he remarked to her something he thought charming—me being a pretty girl with no father in sight—Uriah cursed him in Aramaic. As one who spoke the tongue very well, he was shocked at the sudden and vulgar change in the woman in front of him. Rivka chanced to be coming out of the doorway at the time and saw the brewing storm of his anger. She soothed him and told him of my demons and assured him that if he were calm for but a moment a less awful spirit would come to speak with him.

The Greek surprised us both by his response. “You would do well to take her to Kapharnahum,” he said.

This was a town less than two hours’ walk from Magdala, toward the north end of the Sea of Galilee. “Why do you say that?” Rivka asked.

“I just came from Gennesaret,” he said, which was a village even nearer to Magdala, on the way to Kapharnahum. “I saw a healer there this morning—an amazing man. I watched him stop a woman’s fever in moments. He also cured a woman with a diseased arm. She could not even lift it when she came to him. Then he healed a man who was lame. The man later walked with me to the edge of town, and he said the lameness had troubled him for years. The healer came from Cana, and he is on the way to Kapharnahum and intends to stay there for a few days.”

“Where does he get his power?” Rivka asked.

“A man with him said that he had recently been purified by Yochanan ben Zecharyah.”

Rivka and I had heard of this Yochanan, called the Baptizer. They told stories about him in the market in Magdala. He lived in the wilderness of the Jordan Valley, had the appearance of a prophet from days of old, and many people were whispering that he might be the awaited messiah.

The Greek went on, “I have seen great physicians in Sepphoris and Caesarea, but I have never seen anyone like this. I don’t believe these people are pretending either. He never asked for money, so what advantage would there be in trickery?” He stared at me. “Perhaps he knows how to drive out demons.”

I felt strangely calmed while the trader spoke, but I dared not hope, and Uriah had not yet given up control. If Rivka had not decided there and then that she must take me to him, I would never have found the courage to go.

“What is this healer’s name?” Rivka asked.


She thanked the Greek and assured him that we would travel to Kapharnahum while this wonder-worker still remained there.

We left the next dawn.




13    Trachonitis — The region northeast of the Sea of Galilee.

17    Shabbat The Jewish Sabbath, Saturday, which begins at sundown on Friday.

21    Kapharnahum — Commonly known as Capernaum.





3                   I meet Yeshua.


The morning after the Greek trader first told us of Yeshua, Rivka and I walked to Kapharnahum. From Magdala that takes less than two hours, passing through the village of Gennesaret, and at mid-morning we could see Kapharnahum in the distance. The sea was on our right as we walked, calm beneath a gentle wind, and as great as was my excitement, nothing seemed special about that day, not until the town came into view and near to us I noticed two men making their way down the slope of a low hill.

They were following a goat path that led to the road. The man in the lead attracted my eye first. He was the younger, a man of nineteen or twenty whose handsome face was framed by the tight curls of his black hair. Then the older one—I later learned that he was in his twenty-seventh year—drew my attention away from him.

Along the way, Sarah had been speaking with Rivka in a voice that was hard and confident, and we had passed scores of people on the road or living in the houses alongside, paying them little attention. But when I saw the second of the men climbing down the hill, I, Mariamne, felt compelled to call out in spite of Sarah’s dominion, “There he is!”

To this day I do not know why I should have said that. Yeshua was not remarkable physically—sturdy and vigorous, of course, as most Galilean men are—but ill-favored of feature. He had rounded shoulders and like many Galileans he had dark, prominent eyebrows that nearly met at the center of his face. He had less the countenance of a wonder-worker than that of a country shepherd.

At my words Rivka stopped, first not understanding and then not believing what I was saying. However, when she took a longer look at the man, she, too, felt that there was something special about him. “Come,” she said to me.

The two were only ten paces from reaching the roadway when we came to that part of the road. Rivka called out, “Good morning, sir. Is your name Yeshua?”

“Yes,” he said.

“The healer?”

“The Lord works through me,” he said.

I liked the humility in his response, and as Rivka started to explain to him about me I began to consider. What a strange unfolding of fortune that the Greek trader had paused at our cottage, among all others, to ask for water; that Rivka had walked out the door the moment she did; that the trader had just come from seeing this wonder-worker; and that now, upon arriving at Kapharnahum, the man he spoke of was the very first person we met. The unseen hand of the Lord seemed to be moving in my life. Was it not clear that I was being guided? I found that I could not turn my eyes away from the strange man. There was nothing remarkable about his appearance, yet he appeared to possess a power that could be sensed. Where the power came from I could not tell, but I thought that the essence of this power was confidence and conviction—absolute confidence and absolute conviction. In his presence you felt the way you feel when standing beneath a tree that towers above the others in the grove, or near a mountain that rises alone from the plain, or gazing up at circling gulls when you happen to notice high above them, almost beyond your vision, a soaring eagle. There was nothing remarkable about him and yet you knew immediately that he was a hasid, a holy man, a man intimate with the Lord and careless of the world’s comforts.

He startled me by saying, “Sarah, come with me.”

I glanced foolishly at Rivka, now regretting that I had not been listening to their conversation.

He led me down to the nearby shore. He turned his back toward the water and positioned me so that the sun was behind him. He took both of my hands in his and it occurred to me how strong yet gentle they were.

“Sarah,” he said, “look into my eyes. Look at nothing else. Look as though you are trying to see the spirit inside me.”

They were dark eyes, commanding, and while I was uneasy and felt like glancing away I could not resist. I did not want to resist. I felt the urge to trust him completely. He waited patiently, allowing me to overcome the awkwardness of looking directly at his penetrating stare. On the dark, fathomless center of one of his eyes I noticed my own reflection. I began to focus on it.

“Sarah,” he said firmly, “I command you to go away now. I want to speak only with Mariamne. Go away!”

I felt her recoil. Suddenly I, Mariamne, could feel no barrier between my own self and his eyes.



“Do you have faith in the Lord of Abraham?”

“Yes,” I whispered.

No sooner had I spoken than I felt his grip tighten on my hands. The tone of his voice lowered and his words came loudly toward me as though he called out to someone in the distance. “Sarah! The Lord of Abraham and Moshe commands you to leave this woman!”

I swear I felt her depart.

Terrified, I began to quiver.

“Leah,” he called.

She hesitated, fearful.

“Leah!” he demanded.

I heard a whisper, “No.”

“Leah!  The Lord of Abraham and Moshe commands you to leave this woman!”

I felt Leah leave, too, and while I still quivered I felt the seed of hope.

“Uriah!” he called.

For the first time, Uriah knew what it was to feel fear. This was a power he could not comprehend, a power against which his bitterness had no defense, and in his fear he was no more than a helpless child.

Yeshua did not wait for him to answer. “Uriah! The Lord of Abraham and Moshe commands you to leave this woman!”

He left as though clutching at my heart with desperate fingers.

But he left.

With the strongest driven out, I felt a sudden burst of joy. My eyes began to fill with tears.

Yeshua did not trouble to call the others by name. If Uriah could not withstand this man’s awesome will, they knew it was useless to resist. He commanded and they fled me, dispersing as smoke does on the wind. My heart leaped, but I felt faint. When the last demon left me I was on my knees, gripping Yeshua’s arm to keep from crumpling to the sand. I felt a light kiss on the crown of my head. “Poor Mariamne,” he said in a voice that was now gentle and soothing. “They will never come back. The Lord has made you pure—will you commit yourself to serve him?”

Weeping uncontrollably, I finally managed to say, “Yes.”

He stroked my long hair for a moment. Then he said, “Why don’t you both come with us?”

He beckoned Rivka as he helped me to my feet. With her assistance I followed along behind him and the man who accompanied him, in the direction of the shacks that marked the limits of Kapharnahum. We were soon to learn that the other man’s name was Nathanael, but his father had the name Tolmai and Yeshua’s group sometimes called him Bar-Tolmai.          

We also learned how fortunate we had been. Yeshua’s habit was to spend part of the morning in prayer. For this he liked to slip away to a quiet place, either alone or with a companion or two. We had chanced to meet him as he returned from the hilltop, which he had climbed so he could pray while gazing out at the sea.

We had not walked very far—I was still quivering from my cure—when a strange thing happened. Yeshua noticed two men who were standing on a rocky prominence casting their nets into the water. He stopped and looked at them. They went about their task until they happened to glance down the beach and saw Yeshua standing with his arms folded, gazing at them.

He called to them, full of confidence, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people!”

I say a strange thing happened because the two men looked at each other, then without a word they dropped their nets and began to hurry toward Yeshua. He turned away with the trace of a smile and started along the road once more, not waiting for them to arrive. Rivka and I followed, mystified, our eyes darting from each other to the two men who were leaping from rock to rock to return to the beach and catch up to him.

A little farther on Yeshua spied a fishing boat rocking in the water within hailing distance of the shore. Five men were aboard the boat mending their nets. Again he stepped off the road. This time he raised his hand and gestured to catch their attention. When they turned their gaze toward him, he cupped his hands to the sides of his mouth and made the same call. Immediately, as before, two of the men stopped what they were doing. They leaped into the water and began to swim to shore!

Rivka and I stood astonished, wondering what manner of man this could be. When Yeshua resumed his walk toward Kapharnahum, Rivka caught at Nathanael’s sleeve to encourage him to linger behind. As he walked along with us, she said privately, in a low voice, “He has such power! He merely spoke and those men followed him.”

Nathanael smiled. “Yes, he is powerful, but these are men he met recently in the Jordan Valley, when he was immersed. I was there with them. We all asked to become his followers. He told these men to return to their work in Galilee and when he was ready to begin his mission he would come for them.”

“But you remained with him?” I asked, suspecting that he must be a more treasured disciple than the others.

“He wanted to attend a wedding in Cana, and that’s where I’m from.”

“We heard he was baptized by Yochanan ben Zecharyah,” said Rivka.


“So you are his disciples?”

“Yochanan baptized us. We were his disciples. But now—”

Yeshua had advanced several paces ahead. We were speaking quietly and I did not think he could understand what we were saying over the sound of the waves lapping at the beach. He appeared to be fixed on his own thoughts.

“Now you follow Yeshua?” I said to finish his sentence.

“Andreas was first,” said Nathanael. “He told me that he and his friend, the young priest Ioannes, saw Yeshua being dipped in the Jordan by Yochanan. Watching him, they both had the feeling that he was a hasid. The Baptizer overheard them talking about it later. He told them privately, ‘One thing I know for certain, that one is special.’ This aroused such curiosity that they followed Yeshua and asked if they could spend the night beside his fire. They talked with him that night, and in the morning Andreas went to his brother Shimon—those were the two Yeshua called to a moment ago, casting their nets—and greeted him by saying that he had found the one of whom the prophets wrote.”

Rivka said, “You mean—?”

“We believe so. Yochanan is a holy man, but he never claimed that he was doing more than preparing the way—preparing the way for the one foreseen by the prophets.”

“How about you?” I asked. How was it when you met him?”

“I made a fool of myself.”

I found that I was growing fond of Nathanael. “How?”

“My friend Philippos met him first. He came to tell me. I know Philippos—he loves to embellish the truth. I also know Nazareth—even the more intelligent goats try to escape that place. So when he told me Yeshua came from there I replied, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ ”

I covered my mouth with my hand to stifle a laugh. Perhaps it was only my joyous mood over being liberated from the demons.

Nathanael went on, “Then he surprised me when we met. As I approached with Philippos he said in greeting, ‘Now here is a true man of Israel. There is no deceit in him.’ He spoke as though he knew me. 

“‘How can you know me?’ I asked. 

“‘Underneath the fig tree,’ ” he said, “‘before Philippos called you, I saw you.’ 

“‘Master,’ I said, ‘you are the one the prophets spoke of!’ I had indeed been under a fig tree, but more important, I understood his reference to the words of Zecharyah, the prophet who described the time of the messiah. Zecharyah wrote: ‘On that day, says the Lord of hosts, you shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree.’ You see, every day Philippos and I discussed the prophets and their writings, and he must have mentioned that to Yeshua. Yeshua, in his own way, was acknowledging me as one who had understanding, and meeting him I saw in him what both Philippos and the Baptizer saw—this one is special. 

“Although I could tell that my response pleased Yeshua, he said, ‘Do you believe in me because I said I had seen you underneath that fig tree? You are going to see something greater than that!’ ”

At that moment Andreas and Shimon caught up to us. They hurried past and went to Yeshua, who embraced them both. Shimon, the older of the two, was a tall man with broad shoulders and thick, hairy arms. Andreas, of average height for a Galilean, lacked Shimon’s raw strength but made up for it in natural shrewdness and a cooler temper. Yeshua was introducing them to us when Yacob and Yukhanan, the two men who had jumped from the boat to swim ashore, came running to us, their clothes dripping. So committed were they to this remarkable man who had driven out my demons that they had abandoned their father Zebedee and his two hired hands. In a way, Yacob and Yukhanan resembled Shimon and his brother Andreas. Yacob was larger and more powerful than his younger brother, with a large scar beside one eye and a thick head of hair that swept backward from his forehead. Yukhanan had a thinner face and seemed more intelligent than his older brother. But both seemed boisterous and high-spirited.

Yeshua led us all to a small slope on the western edge of Kapharnahum. The slope faces the sunset and forms a natural amphitheater. There, beyond the limits of the town, he proposed to speak to the people of the town at the ninth hour, so the fishermen and farmers could finish their work and be free to hear him. He sent Shimon and Andreas and Yacob and Yukhanan into town to speak to their friends and neighbors and encourage a crowd to come out and listen.

Waiting for him at the slope were two women Yeshua had cured in Gennesaret—Sousanna and Yoanna. Rivka and I had brought some food and we shared our midday meal with them.

Sousanna, the older of the two, had suffered for months from a disease that brought her terrible pain along her right arm, from the elbow to the back of the shoulder. In fact, she may have been the woman whose cure was witnessed by the Greek trader we met in Magdala. Once Yeshua had spread oil over the area and passed his hands over her, the pain began to go away and she could use the arm a short time later. The other woman, Yoanna, was the wife of Chouzas, steward to Herodes Antipas. For all of her life as an adult she had been afflicted by severe headaches that caused her to take to her bed. At times she had to live in darkened rooms during the day because she could not bear the brightness of the sun. Even the royal physicians in the court at Tiberias gave her little comfort, and she was desperate for a cure. She happened to be returning from Kapharnahum toward Tiberias with a cart and driver when she saw Yeshua in Gennesaret healing people. She had the driver stop and Yeshua cured her in much the same manner as he had cured me. So grateful was she that she delayed her return to Tiberias in order to learn more about him.

Both women wanted to know my own story, how Yeshua had driven out my demons, and I told it to them.

Because Yoanna lived at the court in Tiberias, I could not resist asking, “Is it true what they say in the market?—Herodes is preparing for war?”

“Not yet,” she said. “He did warn his generals to start planning, to know where they would find more men and how they would equip them.”

“Is this regarding Aretas?” Rivka asked.

“Yes,” Yoanna said. “The dispute about the border.”

Relations between Herodes and King Aretas were tense. Herodes ruled not only Galilee but the region of Perea, which extended eastward from the Jordan River and the Dead Sea to the Arabian Desert. The land Aretas ruled, Nabatea, shared a border with Perea, a border which ran through the desert and divided territory which both rulers felt belonged in their own domain.

However, beyond this there was another cause for tense relations. The daughter of Aretas had been married to Herodes—until Herodias came into his life. A union between them could never be legal under the Law—Herodias being already the wife of Herodes’ brother. Even so, the two secretly decided to divorce their own partners and remarry.

Somehow Shaudat, the daughter of Aretas, learned of her husband’s wicked intention. She asked for permission to visit Machaerus, his fortress in Perea, and not knowing that she was aware of his plans, Herodes granted it. From there she sneaked out one night and fled across the border to take refuge in the palace of her father.

King Aretas was, of course, furious over the insult to his daughter. Herodes knew that he would one day want to balance the scales.

I could not understand how Herodes would dare such acts, not caring that he flouted the Law, offended his brother, insulted his wife, and demeaned himself in the eyes of his subjects. Of course, as ruler—tetrarch, according to the Romans, although out of respect we called him king—he possessed the power. But I found it difficult to believe that he would flaunt his power so openly.

Yeshua did not come to eat with us, instead speaking with Nathanael and his friend Philippos and some fishermen from Kapharnahum down near the beach. About the ninth hour he returned to find the crowd of townspeople gathered on the slope, fewer than hoped for but still a worthwhile audience. Rivka sat on one side of me and Yoanna on the other, joyous to be free of pain in the afternoon sun.

Yeshua stood at the base of the slope and directed his words upward to us.

“The Lord is watching us today,” he said first, knowing that it would quiet the audience. He had a powerful voice and great assurance. “He has sent me here with good news. I am here to tell you that the time is filled up and the Kingdom of Heaven is almost here. I am here to urge you to believe and to repent.”

He surveyed the curious faces. “Are you prepared for the coming of the kingdom? I don’t think so. Let me tell you what you need to do to prepare to be part of the kingdom. I say to you that listen, love your enemies.”

He paused for a moment to allow them to consider. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

“Does what I am saying sound hard? Think—the end of the age is coming any day now. You know it as well as I do. The signs are all around us. Are you prepared?

“Let me tell you something even harder. Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

He stopped again to scan their faces. His teaching was not what these people expected or hoped to hear. They seemed bewildered.

“Which is better?—to keep a coat, to strike back when someone strikes you, or to be a member of the Lord’s kingdom?” He paused once more to allow the audience to consider. When he spoke again it was with a lowered voice, just loud enough for everyone to hear if they listened with care. “Let me tell you a secret. The Kingdom of Heaven is not coming soon. It is already here. It is right here in the midst of us; it is inside of you right now. You just don’t realize it. The Lord causes the sun to rise on both the bad and the good, and sends rain on both the just and the unjust. You know as well as I do that the Lord is generous to the ungrateful and wicked. Let the Lord judge all the others; your task is to change yourself. Forgive and you’ll be forgiven. Love if you want to be loved.”

Forgiveness and love—that was the essence of his message that day, the first time I ever listened to Yeshua speak. That was the essence of his message over the whole time I knew him, forgiveness and love, always delivered as an urgent appeal and often illuminated by thunderbolts of wisdom.

He also that day offered one of the parables that he became known for later. “Are you curious to know about the kingdom?” he asked. “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

I confess that I did not at the time understand the point he was making. From the expressions on the faces around me, few others did either.

He spoke for less than an hour, ending his teaching with a prayer. His final words were startling, “Abba, let your kingdom come.”

Now no one had ever heard a teacher speak that way—even the holiest of men. To call the Lord of all creation Abba, the way a child does his father, suggested an intimacy that caused many to glance at their neighbor in wonder. Yet Yeshua delivered the words without the slightest bit of awkwardness.

Afterward, a dozen people came down to him to beg that he heal their illnesses.

Rivka and I had waited too late to return to Magdala before sunset, and with sunset began Shabbat. But Yeshua had offered that we could stay with his group for that night and the next, so that we could return to Magdala the day after Shabbat. Yoanna chose to remain, too, having sent her driver back to Tiberias to let her husband know of her amazing cure. Including Sousanna, that meant we were a group of four women, perhaps enough not to appear dishonorable for remaining in a camp of men.

There remained enough daylight for Rivka and me to walk to the market in Kapharnahum and purchase some food, for ourselves and to share with the others. At the market, people were talking about Yeshua and his power. They did not speak of him as a man sent from the Lord, but as a gifted healer. That would change, but at this time he was only beginning his ministry.

The sun was setting by the time we returned and settled down to eat with the others. I wanted to speak with Yeshua. I wanted to ask him how he came by his great power. But I lacked courage. How could I, someone dominated for years by demons, speak up in the presence of a man who, within moments, had commanded them and sent them fleeing? Instead I watched while he sat near the fire and conversed with the men who had joined their fortunes to his: Nathanael and Philippos; Shimon and his brother Andreas; and the sons of Zebedee—Yacob and Yukhanan.

The men spoke of many things, the approach of Passover, the success of the healings, the people of Galilee, but mainly they spoke of the prophecies and the imminent Day of the Lord. It was clear that Yeshua felt an urgent call to undertake some grand mission, and the men around him sensed this destiny and wanted to be part of it.                   

I understood their respect for him and their great expectations. I was in awe of him myself for his cure of me. I wanted to please him in some small way, perhaps bring him something to eat or drink, but Yoanna and Sousanna were watchful and served him. While Rivka spoke with the two women, I gazed at the starry sky and savored the feeling of liberation from my demons. The crackling fire spread its warmth and I began to grow drowsy.

Then Nathanael came and sat beside me. “How do you feel?”

His presence took away my drowsiness. “Like a slave who is suddenly free.”

“Every day he impresses me more.”

“Is he more powerful than the Baptizer?” I asked.

“Yochanan does not do wonders like this. His power is only to awaken people. He makes them understand that they need to change their sinful ways and then he renews them through immersion. He is quite clear about the fact that he is not the … the one we are waiting for.”

Why he hesitated to say the word I do not know. Was it that words have power, and he was afraid to be the one to unleash it? Or was it that the teacher he followed was so guarded in his language that Nathanael felt it prudent to imitate him?

He continued, “Yochanan says, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ ”

“Yeshua?” I asked.

“We believe.”

“They say Yochanan is like the prophets of old,” I said.

In the firelight, I saw Nathanael’s features spread into a boyish smile. “Then the prophets of old were filled to their eyebrows with vinegar and bile!”

“What do you mean?”

“You should see him. The crowd gathers each morning and waits for him to come and speak to them. After his morning prayers, he strides up and plants his staff and snarls as though he finds them insufferable. He calls out to them, ‘You brood of vipers!’ With his tangled hair and beard and his hairy coat, he resembles nothing so much as a wild man. ‘Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’ You should see their faces! Everyone stands there astonished to be greeted in that way after they have journeyed so far to find him.”

Nathanael laughed at the memory. “You’ve come out to the wilderness to see a holy man—you can’t talk back. Finally their voices return to them. ‘So what shall we do?’ ”

“And what does he say?” I asked.

“‘Produce good fruit. Prove that your hearts are really changed. Whoever has two shirts must share with someone who has none. Whoever has food should do the same. And do not think of saying to yourselves, “We are Abraham’s children,” because, I tell you, God can produce children for Abraham right out of these rocks. Even now the axe is aimed at the roots of the trees, so that any tree that fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire!’

“As I say, he awakens people—the way a slap in the face will wake them from their dreams. But that is exactly what they need, with the Kingdom of God so near. And he doesn’t speak only to the common people. Tax collectors come out to him and ask what they should do to be ready, and he knows them only too well. ‘Charge no more than the official rate,’ he says, knowing that they take advantage of their positions to make extra money. Even soldiers come and say, ‘What about us?’ and Yochanan tells them, ‘Don’t harass people. No more extortion. Be satisfied with your pay.’ What he says is not profound, but we all know this world will be improved if those he immerses have a sincere change of heart. Then he and his disciples take them one by one and, after they admit their sins in front of the Lord, cleanse them in the waters of the Jordan. Then he sends them back into Judea, a silent army ready for the coming of the kingdom.”

His phrase caught my ear.  “A silent army?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Nathanael said.

“What of Pilatos?  Doesn’t this disturb him?”

“A wild man dipping people in the river? As long as no one forms brigades and takes up swords, Pilatos has no one to fight.”

“And Herodes?”

“Yochanan is a holy man—why should he fear Herodes Antipas? In fact, he publicly chastises Herodes for his sins.”

“You mean the marriage to Herodias?”

“Yes,” said Nathanael. “He rails against Herodes for his arrogance—arrogance that makes him blind to the feelings of his subjects and his own brother. But worse, Herodes sins by breaking the Law of Moshe, and his sin will be judged harshly when the Kingdom of God comes.”

“Yochanan had better be careful.”


“You don’t believe Herodes will act against him?”

“What can he do? Yochanan speaks nothing but the truth, and the Lord is on his side. Besides, he is more popular with Herodes’ subjects than Herodes himself.”

Yeshua, on the opposite side of the fire from me, stood up to stretch his legs and warm his hands. I said softly to Nathanael, “I wish I had been there to see him baptized by Yochanan.”

“He told us that when he came up from the water he had a vision, and one day he will share it with us.”

“What sort of vision?”

“He won’t say. But I have a notion. I was with him in Nazareth, his hometown, when we passed through on the way to Cana for the wedding. On Shabbat we visited the house where everyone gathers. They invited those who felt a desire to read and comment. Yeshua did, and the scroll the chazzan handed him was Isaiah. He read—I think you have heard these verses before—‘The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God…’

“When he finished reading, Yeshua handed back the scroll and returned to his seat. Instead of sitting down right away he stopped to face them, and everyone waited to hear his comment. What he said took every last one by surprise. He said, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ ”

I inhaled suddenly, astonished. I stared at Yeshua. “Then he admits it?”

“He sat down without saying another word. Some could not believe that they heard him correctly. Those who were sure could not think of how to respond. When we went outside after the service, his brothers challenged him, wanting to know what he had meant. ‘What I have said, I have said,’ was all he would reply. They all held him in great respect, because of his years with the Essenes and knowing that he felt a call, but it was easy to see the doubt in their minds. When the women came out I expected his mother to press him, but she said nothing. Whether she felt he had become a stranger to her in his years at Qumran, or whether she had some secret conviction that he had a special destiny, I don’t know. But when he told her and his brothers and sisters that the Lord had chosen him for a special mission and he wanted them all to accompany him, no one resisted.”

“Where are they now?”

“In Nazareth, making preparations. They should come here the day after Shabbat.”

I once more glanced across the fire at Yeshua.

A shiver raced up my spine. He was staring at me.

He left where he was and came around the fire to be near me.

I said the only thing I could think of, “How can I thank you?”

“Give thanks to the Lord,” he said. “He works through me.”

“I will. I do.”

“It would please me to know what you thought about today,” he said.

“Your power over the demons?”

“About the teaching.”

After a moment I said, “It’s easy to understand forgiveness and love.”

“Then there was something you didn’t understand?”

I thought, What a quick mind he has. I could think of nothing except to be honest with him. I wanted to be honest with him. “You must understand,” I said, “I am a simple person. The story you told—the seed in the field…”

“The parable. Yes. A parable is not meant to be simple. It demands that the listener think. The seed is sown by the farmer, but from there it grows on its own in the earth. Gradually it ripens, and one day it is harvest time.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so simple, and you appear to know so much. When I’m with you, I can’t help feeling like a child. I’m sorry.”

He leaned toward me. “Like a child,” he repeated, his tone growing more tender. “You’re like a child and you think that is cause to be embarrassed? Let me tell you, there is nothing better to be like. To be like a child is to be worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I sat there, not fully comprehending the compliment, but nevertheless basking in his praise. He turned away, content to let our conversation end on a profound thought. If it had not been for the warm flush of exhilaration I felt, I would never have had the courage to say what I said next—especially in front of his disciple.

“And what are you like?” I asked.

Surprised by my boldness, he half-turned back. His expression scarcely changed, but when he looked straight into my eyes he could not hide the delight in his own. “Think of me as a sickle,” he said.



24    ill-favored of feature. — No dependable description of Jesus dates from his own time. However, in Luke 4:23 Jesus says to those who know him in Nazareth, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ ”—an odd statement unless he had some visible imperfection. A century later Celsus, in The True Word, wrote that Jesus “was, as they report, little, and ill-favored, and ignoble.” Church father Origen (185?-254?), who wrote Against Celsus specifically to refute the pagan’s assertions, quibbled with “little” and “ignoble” but not “ill-favored.” (Book VI, Chapter 75.) In Chapter 9 of On the Flesh of Christ, Tertullian (160?-225?) wrote: “His body did not even reach to human beauty, to say nothing of heavenly glory.”

25    and yet you knew immediately that he was a hasid, — Ron Miller, The Hidden Gospel of Matthew, 24.

27    Yeshua’s habit was to spend part of the morning in prayer. — “‘Prayer’ in ancient Palestine usually meant the recitation of [a] long set of prayers, often proclaimed aloud and in public. In retreating to the hills for long hours of solitude, Jesus was probably engaged in what today we would call meditation.” Marcus Borg, The Lost Gospel Q: The Original Sayings of Jesus, 42, footnote.

28    “Follow me and I will make you fish — TJS, Mark 1:17. (NRSV)

28    Immediately, as before, two of the men stopped what they were doing — TJS, Mark 1:19-20.

29    “these are men he met recently in the Jordan Valley, — John 1:37-42. Specifically, Simon, Andrew and Nathanael are mentioned (as well as Philip and presumably the Beloved Disciple), but it seems reasonable that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were there as well. Mark 1:12-13, Matthew 4:1-11, and Luke 4:1-13 mention a 40-day fast and temptations by Satan directly after the baptism of Jesus. Perhaps he did go into seclusion for a time before heading north, but some of the detail in Matthew and Luke seems so transparently fictional (Did no one notice the Prince of Darkness standing on the pinnacle of the Temple in a teeming city?) that I have omitted it and followed the more plausible narrative in John. Among others, Gerd Lüdemann dismisses the 40-day fast episode as “inauthentic” (What Jesus Didn’t Say, 6-8).

29    “He wanted to attend a wedding in Cana, — John 2:1-10. I leave out the water-into-wine miracle based on Crossan’s analysis in The Historical Jesus, 311-312. Too long to recount here, his argument concludes that the miracle is a later addition and not in John’s original text. Besides which, would Jesus’ mother soon afterward think him “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21) for his feats in Capernaum when he had just performed a miracle at her request?

29    and that’s where I’m from.  — John 21:2. 

29    ‘One thing I know for certain, that one is special.’ — John 1:36. My phrase, in place of “There goes the Lamb of God!” Verses 29-36 assert that John knew from their meeting for the baptism that Jesus was the messiah. Yet months later, from prison, he would send two disciples to ask that very question.

30    preparing the way — Isaiah 40:3. “Prepare a road for the Lord through the wilderness, clear a highway across the desert for our God.”

30    ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’” — TJS, John 1:46. (KJV)

30    ‘Now here is a true man of Israel. (And following)  — John 1:47-50. (JBP) At verse 49, John has Nathaniel unequivocally recognize Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel. But if so, why would Jesus ask—a couple of years later—Who do people say that I am? and Who do you say that I am? To add some ambiguity, I have rendered it “the one the prophets spoke of.”

31    ‘On that day, says the Lord of hosts, you shall invite — Zechariah 3:10. (NRSV)

32    at the ninth hour — 3 p.m. The Israelite day began at 6 a.m.

32    Sousanna and Yoanna. — Luke 8:3.

32    Once Yeshua had spread oil over the area — Jesus sometimes applied oils to effect his cures. See Mark 6:13.

32    Chouzas, steward to Herodes Antipas. — Luke 8:3.

33    “The dispute about the border.” — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.5.1.

33    The daughter of Aretas had been married to Herodes (And following) — Josephus, Ibid.

33    Shaudat, the daughter of Aretas, — Florence Morgan Gillman, Herodias: At Home in That Fox’s Den, 21. The name of Herod’s first wife is speculative, based on an inscription found in the territory of her father Aretas IV.

33    She asked for permission to visit Machaerus, his fortress in Perea, — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.5.1.

34    the time is filled up and the Kingdom of Heaven is almost here. — Mark 1:15.

34    I say to you that listen, love your enemies.  — TJS, Luke 6:27, 32-34. (NRSV)

35    Do not resist an evildoer. (And following) — TJS, Matthew 5:39-42. (NRSV)

35    The Lord causes the sun to rise — TJS, Matthew 5:45. (TJS)

35    the Lord is generous to the ungrateful and wicked. — TJS, Luke 6:35. (TJS)

36    Forgive and you’ll be forgiven. — TJS, Luke 6:37. (NRSV)

36    The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed — TJS, Mark 4:26-29 (NRSV).

36    “Abba, let your kingdom come.” — TJS, Luke 11:2. The familiar way Jesus addressed God startled his listeners, irritated religious authorities, and added to his charisma. Abba was the Aramaic word a child used for father, the equivalent of calling God “Papa.” Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, 35.

37    we could return to Magdala the day after Shabbat. — Exodus 16:29 said, “do not leave your place on the seventh day,” which Jews interpreted as not to travel farther than a distance of about 3,000 feet. (See footnote to Acts 1:12 in The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV), NT, 186.)

38    ‘I baptize you with water; but one — Luke 3:16; Mark 1:7-8; Matthew 3:11. (NRSV)

39    ‘You brood of vipers!’ — TJS, Luke 3:7-8; Matthew 3:7-8. (NRSV)

39    ‘What then should we do?’ — TJS, Luke 3:10. (NRSV)

39    “Produce good fruit. Prove that your hearts are really — TJS, Luke 3:8-9, 11; Matthew 3:9-10. (Q) “We are Abraham’s children” builds on a pun in Hebrew: “stones” = abanim; “children” = banim.  (See Joel Carmichael, The Death of Jesus, 169.)

40    Tax collectors come out to him — TJS, Luke 3:12-13. (Q)

40    Even soldiers come and say, ‘What about us?’ — TJS, Luke 3:14. (Q)

40    a silent army — Joel Carmichael, The Death of Jesus, 168. Carmichael speculates that John was laying the groundwork for a guerrilla campaign against the Romans.

41    Herodes sins by breaking the Law of Moshe, — Mark 6:18.

41    the chazzan handed him The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV), NT, 103, footnote 17. An attendant in the Sabbath service was responsible for scrolls and handed them to the readers. In a small village such as Nazareth, not likely to possess a synagogue, services were probably held in a large house and the rabbi, teacher and chazzan might be the same person.

41    ‘The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, — Isaiah 61:1-2. (NRSV)

42    ‘This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.’ — Luke 4:21. (KJV) Scholars are skeptical that this incident is historical. Gert Lüdemann calls it “fictitious from top to toe.” (What Jesus Didn’t Say, 11)




4                   From Abraham to our time.


I said before that the story of a messiah cannot be lifted out of the tribulations of the nation that produced him. When I say how the spines of people tingled listening to Yeshua speak, my words are empty to those who do not understand how we had suffered. I should tell what led up to him.

According to the elders, from the day the Lord made his covenant with Abraham on Mount Moriah until today almost two thousand years have passed. Can a person who calls himself fortunate to live fifty years imagine the passing of two thousand? Can we comprehend the suffering of the hundred generations that led to these terrible years we now endure at the end of history?

From the day the Lord blessed Abraham to the time of Yaakov, two hundred years went by. Yaakov’s son Yosef was taken to Egypt, and there our first great trial began. After a time a Pharaoh arose who looked on us with contempt, and we ended up as slaves, under the lash.

Centuries passed before the Lord took pity. He sent Moshe to lead us out of Egypt, and Moshe’s mighty captain, Yehoshua, conquered Canaan in the name of the Lord. Centuries after that—a thousand years ago—came our Golden Age. Under Saul, David, and Solomon, the Israelites fully savored what it was like to be the chosen people, living free and with dignity in their own nation.

Unfortunately, we are stiff-necked and prone to forget. After Solomon’s time the people contended and the one nation divided into two—Israel in the north and Judea in the south.

Two hundred years later the Lord delivered Israel into the hands of the Assyrians. Ten of the twelve tribes were lost to history. Judea, however, survived for another hundred and fifty years. Then the Babylonians came, laying waste to Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple and enslaving the two tribes that remained.

Those were dark days. The land given us for an inheritance lay trampled by conquerors and most of our people were held captive in Babylon. Those fortunate ones who had fled at the approach of the Assyrians and the Babylonians started communities of Jews all over the world—in Cilicia, Pamphylia, and Pontus, in the islands of Cyprus and Crete, and farther away in Thessaly, Macedonia, and Corinth.

When at last Cyrus the Persian seized control of the Babylonian empire and released us from captivity, many journeyed to these and other countries, or they chose to remain under the protection of the messiah, Cyrus, rather than return to a desolate homeland. Those who did return began the work of rebuilding the Temple.

In time the Persians were conquered by Alexander. When he died his empire was divided among his generals. Greek culture flourished everywhere. Many Jews succumbed to it and remained Jews in name only. Indeed, those were the days when many Jews began to add a Greek surname to their own name. And during that time the holy writings were translated into Greek, which would not have been necessary if the Lord’s people were not forgetting Hebrew.

Another hundred years passed. Then came the most terrible of the Greek kings, Antiochus called Epiphanes. Antiochus hated the Jews because we would not worship him as a god. He made it his mission to exterminate us. He ordered the death penalty for any parent who circumcised a son, and he set up altars to Greek gods across Judea—even a statue of Zeus in the holy Temple itself.

All of this must be understood to see how the Lord was testing us.

Out of the embers one old priest, Mattathias ben Yochanan, rekindled the fire. He was a proud Jew, of the family of Hasmon, filled with zeal for Moshe’s Law. Refusing to submit to the king’s decree, he killed an officer of Antiochus and was forced to flee to the wilderness with his five sons. But he ignited a rebellion—led by his eldest son, Yehudah the Maccabee.

Rachel has once more interrupted, restless with the way I am telling my story. But how can we understand our own time except we know how it flowed out of what came before? To this day, for instance, at the festival of Hanukkah, we celebrate the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus and the rededication of the Temple. 

Patience, Rachel.

For a hundred years the Lord favored the Hasmoneans. Then a civil war broke out between two brothers. The Roman general Pompeius, returning from his conquest of the Armenians in the east, marched into Judea and settled our civil war for us. He permitted the rightful heir, Hyrcanus, to remain as high priest, but he kept political power for Rome.

Rome has ruled over us ever since, for more than a hundred years.

Pompeius soon found himself locked in his own struggle—with Julius Caesar. A wealthy and powerful Idumean named Antipater supported Julius, and upon his victory was named governor of the region. But further turmoil followed—both Caesar and Antipater were assassinated.

Antipater’s son sailed to Rome. He appealed to the Roman Senate for support, and Marcus Antonius gave him an army with which he took Jerusalem and seized power. This son, King Herodes, became so powerful and did such great works that he is known today as Herodes the Great.

Herodes was uneasy on his throne because he was not a true Jew. His parents had been Gentiles, from Idumea, and forced to convert before he was born. To win over the people Herodes married a daughter of the old line of high priests, a woman with my name, Mariamne. When years passed and his stubborn subjects still were cool to him, he ruthlessly murdered everyone who seemed a threat, including Mariamne and his two sons by her. Filled with spite, he brought from Egypt a priest named Boethus. Herodes installed him as high priest and married the man’s daughter to secure his loyalty.

Patience, Rachel. I now come to the point.

All of this has been told so that our own time can be understood. Pious Jews reviled Herodes, who not only was not a true Jew but had murdered his Jewish wife and children. They also reviled the Boethusians—the chief priests who not only were foreign but owed their allegiance to Rome. The pious believed that the Lord expected them to reject the false leaders and restore to the Temple a legitimate high priest.

Those who knew the scriptures well saw that history was reaching a climax, that this was the end of an age as prophesied by the wise. According to Samuel, the Lord had promised David that his throne would be established forever—a promise that appeared to be broken while we lived under the rule of Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans. Many began to predict the coming of a messiah, a descendant of David who would take the reins of power.

Throughout the thirty-three-year reign of Herodes the Great the Romans were content to let him govern the region. Upon his death they allowed his kingdom to be divided among his sons Archelaus, Herodes Antipas, and Philippos. This division continued for ten years. Then the emperor, Caesar Augustus, reconsidered. Archelaus proved to be the same monstrous tyrant his father had been and Caesar responded to the public outcry. He exiled Archelaus to Gaul. He left Herodes Antipas in command of Galilee and Perea, and Philippos in command of Batanea and Trachonitis; however, he sent a Roman, Coponius, to govern Judea in place of Archelaus. All three of these districts were combined into the province of Syria.

Caesar sent out a legate named Quirinius to be military governor of this province. Preparing to tax Judea directly, Quirinius ordered a census so that the people might be numbered.

Yeshua was born in the year of the census. 





48    the Lord made his covenant with Abraham on Mount Moriah — Genesis 22:2.

49    the Lord delivered Israel into the hands of the Assyrians. — 721 B.C.E. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, 105.

49    Ten of the twelve tribes were lost to history. — Crossan, John Dominic & Jonathan L. Reed, Excavating Jesus, 74.

49    until the Babylonians came — 587-586 B.C.E.  Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet, 105.

49    communities of Jews all over the world — Klausner, From Jesus to Paul, 11-12.

49    under the protection of the messiah, Cyrus, — Isaiah 45 begins with the phrase, “Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus…” The word “messiah” meant a ruler believed to be anointed—that is, installed—by God. See Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 158.

49    Indeed, those were the days when many Jews began — Klausner, From Jesus to Paul, 25-26.

50    Out of the embers one old priest, Mattathias ben Yochanan, — Josephus, Antiquities, 12.6.1-4.

50    Then a civil war broke out between two brothers. — Ibid., 14.1.2-3, and following, 14.4.1-5.

51    His parents had been Gentiles, from Idumea, and forced to convert — Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, 107.

52    According to Samuel, the Lord had promised David — 2 Samuel 7:15-16.

52    He left Herodes Antipas in command of Galilee and Perea, and Philippos in command of Batanea and Trachonitis; — Galilee and Perea were physically separated regions, with Galilee extending west from the Sea of Galilee and Perea east from the Dead Sea. Batanea and Trachonitis were contiguous regions northeast of the Sea of Galilee.

52    Caesar sent out a legate named Quirinius NRSV, New Testament, 98-99, note 2.

52    Yeshua was born in the year of the census. — Luke 2:1-7 very precisely links the birth of Jesus with the first Roman census of Judea, undertaken in 6-7 C.E. when Quirinius became legate of Syria. Quirinius became legate a decade after the death of Herod the Great, which had occurred in 4 B.C.E. Since Luke earlier wrote (1:5) that Herod was king when Mary became pregnant, there is no satisfactory way to reconcile the two assertions. My assumption is that in the oral transmission of the Jesus “biography” among Nazarene refugees in the 60s and 70s, storytellers enhanced the drama by connecting him with the hated figure of Herod (much as we would use Hitler) and introducing details such as the visit by the Magi, slaughter of the innocents, flight into Egypt, etc.—quite consistent with the Jewish tradition of midrashic exposition.




5                   Yeshua’s early years.


These days some people tell stories of the wondrous signs that accompanied the birth of Yeshua. Great men often inspire stories of wondrous signs accompanying their birth. Alexander and Caesar Augustus come to mind. Rachel mentions Pythagoras, Plato, and Apollonius of Tyana. 

Maryam, the mother of Yeshua, never told me any such stories. She once said: “What other sign was needed for the appearance of the messiah than the time itself? The land the Lord gave us was ruled by a Gentile. The Temple sacrifices were being performed by false priests. The lives of the Lord’s chosen people were directed by men in a far-off place. And now the census violated the Law of our fathers.”

Since Maryam has come to be known by the Latin version of her name, Maria, I will refer to her that way.

Yosef and Maria were simple folk. As much as Yosef resented being numbered by the authorities and having to render tribute to Rome, he was not stirred to take up the sword. He was a poor man of Nazareth who made his living as a craftsman and builder. Through friendship with Maria’s parents, he became betrothed to her as she was coming into womanhood.

Now I must speak with care. There was a secret at the heart of their betrothal which no one ever spoke of, least of all Maria. Though I became her friend during the time of Yeshua’s ministry and in the years that followed, the subject of Yosef and her betrothal was one she would never discuss. When a conversation began to lead in that direction, she would always turn her gaze aside and say of Yosef, with great feeling and great finality, “There never was a kinder man.” No one dared to pursue the conversation further.

I can only write that Yeshua’s origins are a mystery. As he grew, Maria went on to give him four brothers—Yacob, Yoseh, Yehuda and Shimon—and two sisters, Shalom and Maryam.

When Yosef and Maria discovered that she was with child, they thought it best for her to travel south and live with her relatives Zecharyah and Elisheba in the hill country west of Jerusalem. When the time approached for Yeshua to be born, Yosef wanted to return to his hometown, Bethlehem. They traveled the roads slowly because of Maria’s condition. They passed through Jerusalem on the way south to Bethlehem, unaware that the cousins of Yosef with whom they planned to stay in Bethlehem were that very day visiting the holy city. The two men had gone up to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices for a friend whose illness had put him near death. On the afternoon of his arrival in Bethlehem with Maria, finding that his relatives were away in Jerusalem, Yosef wandered the streets searching for an inn that was not filled with visitors. Maria began to feel the pains of childbirth, and because of the late hour he returned with her to a cave he had noticed just before entering the town.

There, just before dawn, Yeshua was born.

I said before that no signs accompanied the birth of Yeshua. By that I meant no great earthquake or wonder in the sky—no fiery rain of stars. However, Maria spoke of one curious event in my presence, and when she mentioned it Yeshua’s lips drew into a thin smile. “As the sun arose that morning, Yeshua asleep on my breast, we saw a lamb wander up to the cave entrance—all alone, a stray from one of the flocks being taken out to graze. It paused to stare at us for the space of several breaths, no more than a half-dozen paces away. Then it flicked its tail and moved on.”

Yosef and Maria remained in the area for forty days. As required by the law of purification, the child was taken to the Temple on his eighth day to be circumcised and he was given the name Yeshua bar Yosef. On his fortieth day, Maria gave the required offering of two doves or pigeons. This last was a mark of their poverty, as the offering was supposed to be a lamb and a dove unless the mother was too poor to purchase a sheep. After fulfilling the law, they returned to Galilee.

As Yeshua began his life in this world, prophecies of the end time were spoken of constantly in the synagogues and in the streets. Those who loved the Law, and were still inspired by the deeds of Mattathias and his sons, felt aroused to take action. Ten years earlier, upon the death of Herodes the Great, these men had risen all over the region. Yehuda bar Hezekiah broke into the royal armory in Sepphoris, stole weapons to arm his men, and terrorized the north. In Perea a servant of the king named Shimon declared himself king and burned down many great buildings including the royal palace at Jericho. In Judea a shepherd named Athrongeus placed a diadem on his own head, put his four brothers in charge of his military forces and attacked Romans and Jews alike. Others rose, too, and the rebellion was not put down until the legate Quinctillius Varus swept down from the north with fresh troops and crucified two thousand patriots.

Now, while Quirinius carried out the census, Yehuda the Galilean aroused the people. To be ruled by Rome through Herodes and his sons was galling enough, but Rome was now taking direct control of the land the Lord gave us and Jews would be required to pay tribute to Caesar, an earthly God. Even harder, Quirinius replaced the high priest Joazar with Hanan. That meant that our holiest rites at the Temple—the Lord’s sacred place of residence—would be conducted by a man selected by Gentiles. For many Jews it was too much to bear.

As Yeshua lay in his swaddling clothes, Yehuda the Galilean rallied the people by crying out that they should have no ruler but God. Aided by a Pharisee named Zadok, he formed a group of patriots known as the Zealots. They took their name in memory of Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, who in the book of Numbers received the Lord’s blessing for his zeal in killing those who transgressed the Law. Yehuda’s appeal went to the hearts of people. Many responded to his call for a new rebellion.  As they had ten years before, the Romans finally crushed the uprising and killed Yehuda, but the group he founded, the Zealots, lived on and continued to tear through our time like a whirlwind.

Yosef and Maria were among those stirred by the great reawakening of Jewish spirit and identity symbolized by Yehuda the Galilean. They lived in hope, looking forward to the restoration of God’s nation in its former glory. They gave all of their sons old and proud names tracing back to the days of the patriarchs and the settling of the holy land.

When at last Augustus Caesar grew old and fell asleep, the Roman Senate named his step-son Tiberius as emperor. Yeshua was then a boy of eight. Of his childhood, Maria has said that her son walked early and talked early, that she marveled at his ability to speak with children years older as though he were of their age, and that she marveled even more that they accepted him as one of their equals. He often questioned their decisions and intentions and when he made clear his own view they invariably paid heed. Even the other parents would tell her that this child was remarkable—that he could correct older children without provoking them. “Because his manner seemed sincere and his views so sound,” she said, “it never occurred to them to resent him. The elder who served as rabbi in Nazareth began to call him the little lamp of the Lord.”

He also was unlike other children at the services on Shabbat, paying close attention and remaining afterward to speak with the teacher. He was fascinated by the Torah and wanted to learn to read it for himself. Long before he reached his thirteenth year he began to pray the Shema on rising in the morning and just before going to sleep at night. 

The reign of Tiberius marked a clear change in our lives. Augustus had been tolerant of the Jews, allowing us to observe Shabbat and keep our own ways. All of his other subjects were required to make worship offerings to him. Augustus allowed us to make offerings to the Lord instead, as long as we prayed for his health and safety as emperor. Tiberius, however, resented our people for receiving special treatment. As a general, he was irritated that devout Jews did not serve in the military—for no devout Jew could pay respect to the standards carried by each unit—and those who did serve would not train or go into battle on Shabbat. The resentment Tiberius felt was inflamed by his advisor, Lucius Sejanus, who felt an even greater hatred for us.

The year after he became emperor, Tiberius sent Valerius Gratus to replace Rufus as governor. Gratus would oversee Judea for eleven years—until the coming of Pontios Pilatos. One of his first acts was to depose the high priest, Hanan, and within the space of about three years he named three successors: first Ismael, son of Phabi; then Eleazar, son of the Hanan he had just deposed; then Shimon, son of Camithus. Finally he replaced Shimon with another relation of Hanan, a son-in-law named Yosef bar Kayafa.

Many years later, Yosef bar Kayafa would oversee the trial of Yeshua.

The year after he became high priest of the Temple, Yosef and Maria went up to Jerusalem, as they always did, to celebrate Passover. Now Yeshua had an excellent mind for the Law; he was a lad of surpassing intelligence. While visiting Solomon’s Portico he began to speak with the Temple priests and scribes. They were surprised and delighted to hear a poor child from Galilee recite passages from the Law with assurance. This was a rare feat for a boy who spoke Aramaic and had little chance to be instructed by those who were most knowledgeable about the sacred writings in Hebrew. The more they questioned him, the more he impressed them by quoting from memory long sections of the Torah and the prophets. More impressive still, the words were not empty recitation to him. He delivered them as filled with meaning.

As any teacher will who encounters a brilliant young mind, the priests began to favor him, even finding his Galilean accent amusing. As any village boy will who outshines his countrymen and finds himself treated with respect in the city, Yeshua welcomed the attention. Whenever he could, while the family remained in Jerusalem, he sought out Sadducees and Pharisees to engage them in conversation. On the morning the family gathered to begin the return to Galilee, he slipped away to have one last discussion with the learned men. Yosef and his kinsmen and friends were outside the city on the road to Jericho before Yacob, looking for his older brother, asked his father why Yeshua had not come with the company.

Yosef left the others and hurried back alone into the city. He was greatly worried to find Yeshua because the streets, alleys, shops, and buildings were all teeming with visitors. However, knowing his son, he reckoned that he might find him in the Temple grounds and so entered first at the Hulda Gates to begin his search. He discovered him as he suspected, in the shade of Solomon’s Portico. Whatever anger he felt at the boy’s actions melted within a moment in his own relief and fatherly pride. He recognized the Pharisee with whom Yeshua was speaking. He was Gamaliel, grandson of the great Hillel—the sage whose motto had been “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” 

When Yosef explained and excused himself to leave with Yeshua, Gamaliel complimented him. “You are a fortunate father. I will remember this one.” This he truly did. As a member of the Sanhedrin years later, he would urge moderation in judging the followers of Yeshua.

The following year Yeshua turned thirteen. On a visit to Sepphoris he was called to read on Shabbat for the first time. The rabbi and elders were accustomed to hearing boys recite their passages of scripture awkwardly, laboring and making mistakes. Yeshua delivered his passages as though he were full grown and grasped their deepest meaning. Everyone present understood that he would one day be a leader.

In the fifth year of Tiberius the emperor’s nephew died during a visit to Antiochus. Germanicus was only thirty-three and his body showed evidence of poisoning. Many believed that Tiberius had secretly ordered his death because of his great popularity. When Augustus had died, the Roman legions preferred Germanicus over Tiberius. They would have installed him forcibly as emperor if only Germanicus had agreed. Being an honorable man, he refused. Tiberius feared that his reluctant rival might one day change his mind.

The widow of Germanicus, Agrippina, sailed back to Rome to raise their children. Convinced that Tiberius had ordered the death of her husband, she unwisely kept accusing him, and her friends and family suffered. Tiberius ultimately sent her into exile and executed two of her sons as public enemies. Years later the third son, Gaius, would benefit from the people’s great love for Germanicus by being named emperor. Gaius, however, had none of his father’s noble qualities. He was the vilest man who ever ruled Rome.

The same year Germanicus died, Tiberius and Sejanus found a reason to persecute the Jews. The wife of the Roman Senator Saturninus, a woman named Fulvia, had been converted to the faith by a Jewish teacher. Through him and three of his friends, she sent gifts to Jerusalem. The teachers shamed themselves in the eyes of the Lord by keeping the gifts.

When this deceit came to the emperor’s attention, he went before the senate to deplore it. He urged that everyone of the Jewish faith be driven from Rome or else enslaved and sent to labor for the empire. Four thousand Jews were exiled to Sardinia. Others who served in the army were punished for refusing to fight on Shabbat and Jewish holy days. This first persecution of the Jews by the Romans did not end for over ten years, until Tiberius discovered the treachery of Sejanus and ordered him executed.

Upon hearing of this persecution of Jews in Rome, the tetrarch of Galilee, Herodes Antipas—the one we called king—felt it wise to show his loyalty.  He announced that he would relocate his capital from Sepphoris to a grand new city to be built on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, south of my own village of Magdala by not much more than an hour’s walk. To honor the emperor, Herodes named this city Tiberias.

Populating the new city proved no simple task. To make way for the buildings, a number of sepulchers had to be moved away, meaning that those who lived there would transgress the Law and be considered unclean. To fill the city with people, Herodes ordered many powerful people from his court to move whether they wanted to or not. He also freed many slaves, giving them liberty in return for their oath that they would remain in Tiberias in the houses that he had constructed for them.

In the years following his passage to manhood, Yeshua continued to increase his learning, studying the scriptures under the guidance of Pharisee rabbis who lived in Sepphoris. He also grew in confidence and in manliness, learning Yosef’s trade of craftsman and builder. This he had to do, because Yosef himself one day succumbed to a fever, leaving Maria to make her own way with seven children.

These were not quiet times. Though not as numerous as they would be thirty years later, bands of Zealots sometimes roamed the hills of Galilee. Inspired by the example of Yehuda the Galilean, they led hard lives, committed to gaining independence for the land the Lord gave us. They harassed the soldiers of Herodes, struggled to arouse the people to action, and punished those Jews who seemed too friendly with the Romans. They set fire to their houses, stole their animals, and killed them, saying that no Jew should prefer the Gentile yoke to liberty under the Lord. When Zealots came to Nazareth or the nearby hills, Maria would gather the children together and take refuge in a nearby cave until they had left the area.

In the summer of his eighteenth year, Yeshua accompanied a foreman to Tiberias to purchase some rare hardwoods to be used in a building in Nazareth. The only city he had ever seen was nearby Sepphoris, and Yeshua was impressed by the marble structures and massive columns of the new capital, as well as the activity in the crowded streets. Though he found the city impressive, it held no attraction for him. Built as it was on a burial ground, incorporating Roman-style baths, temples and theaters, Tiberias reeked of impurity. A simple man, raised in a village close to the sounds and smells and sights of the countryside, Yeshua felt uncomfortable being there.

However, the visit did bring him into contact with the Essenes.

Among the Jews, neither Sadducee nor Pharisee equals an Essene for strictness. The greatest part of the sect remains in the wilderness, praying, studying and tending their flocks, forever avoiding the lures and vices of civilization. Those who do live in the cities and towns remain apart from their neighbors, holding themselves to a higher standard. Certain Essenes appear from time to time in the halls of power, invited because of their gift for prophesy or their knowledge of medicine. They know the secret medicinal uses of herbs and stones.

They are notable for owning everything in common. Upon joining the group, the richest share all they possess with the rest, so that all have an equal part in the fate of the community. They prosper or they suffer as one. Except for one group that accepts marriage as the only way to assure posterity, they live without wives and keep no servants, spending all their time devoted to the Lord, studying his scriptures and doing his will. As masters of the healing arts, they first impressed Yeshua by curing him within an hour of a sickness brought on by drinking from a pond of standing water. He, in turn, impressed them with his knowledge of the scriptures.

They began to speak to Yeshua like a younger brother. He was attracted by their virtue and the hard path they freely chose to follow, and from his brief introduction to them he conceived the idea of going south to live in one of their communities.

Before returning to Nazareth, the foreman took Yeshua north along the coast of the sea to Kapharnahum. A friend of the man lived there, one among a couple of thousand inhabitants, most of whom make their living from fishing or supporting those who do. Though they remained only one day, Yeshua came away from the little town with pleasant memories. Later, it was where he chose to begin his mission in the north.

The following summer, Yeshua returned to Tiberias in the company of two friends to purchase some tools. He looked forward to meeting once again with the Essenes who lived there. On the road, at midday, he was startled to be hailed from behind by his brother Yacob, astride a borrowed horse. Maria was suffering from a high fever and wanted Yeshua to return immediately.

Riding the horse together, the two brothers were able to reach Nazareth just as the sun set. Maria took a week to recover, and from that time onward Yeshua had a desire to learn how to heal. As the oldest son he accepted responsibility for his mother and brothers and sisters, but in his heart the seed of a new plan for his life had begun to sprout.

In the twelfth year of his reign, Tiberius grew weary of the endless vexations of being emperor. Already 67, he wanted to retire and urged the senate to choose his successor. When the senate proved unable to agree, he decided to wait no longer. He informed them that he would move his residence to Campania, and he left Sejanus in Rome to serve as his representative. Though many in the senate worried about the power this would give Sejanus, they accepted the decision as a way to postpone the thorny choice of who should follow Tiberius.

The new power Sejanus exercised had an immediate impact on Judea. One of his earliest acts was to name Pontios Pilatos to govern us. Sejanus sent him not as a procurator but as a prefect. That is, he not only oversaw the collection of taxes but he also had thousands of soldiers at his command. He seemed to arrive with a grudge against the Jews. When it came time to move his troops from Caesarea to their winter quarters in Jerusalem, Pilatos directed them to take along a bust of Tiberius. As a symbol of the authority of the emperor, he gave orders that this bust and the signa of the legions—which had graven portraits of Tiberius mounted on them—be placed inside the Antonia fortress, which was next to the Temple grounds. This act, taken under cover of night, defiled the Temple.

Since the days of Moshe, when the Lord gave us the second and third of his commandments, Jews have been forbidden to make or display graven images, or even to appear to pay them honor. This is true in our streets and in our homes; worse still that this should take place in the shadow of the Temple—the Lord’s residence on earth.

The next morning, when the residents discovered the outrage, furious protests broke out. Dissatisfied with the response of the commander in Jerusalem, hundreds of Jews marched down to the coast to Caesarea and gathered outside the palace where Pilatos lived. They sat down and refused to depart until he would hear their grievance. Pilatos ignored them for five days, expecting their fire to cool. At last, annoyed by their clamor, he sent word that he would meet with them. When he finally appeared, three rows of legionaries suddenly surrounded the crowd. Instead of listening to their complaint, Pilatos announced that if they did not disperse at once he would order them all put to the sword.

He could not have foreseen what happened next, unfamiliar as he was with the Jews and their zeal for the Law.  Every member of the crowd bowed and offered his neck to the Roman swords. Knowing that the Lord was watching them, they preferred death to accepting the defilement of his most sacred place.

Pilatos now realized how Rome would view the bloodletting—the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed and unresisting subjects made necessary by his one rash command. Worse, he foresaw that he would have to reenact the slaughter across Judea. He finally relented, giving orders to remove the bust and signa and bring them back to Caesarea.

News of this outrage to the Temple spread throughout Judea and Galilee. I later learned from the lips of Yeshua his own reaction to hearing of it. He was standing with Maria in a Nazareth street when a visitor from Sepphoris informed them. At first, as pious Jews, their blood rose. Then, as one who had mastered the scriptures and the prophets, Yeshua felt a shiver course up his spine.

“Mother,” he said, “this is the sign.”

“What do you mean?”

“From Daniel.”  He added the words, “The ‘abomination that desolates,’ ” and Maria understood at once.

Shaken, but marveling at the depth of Yeshua’s knowledge and quickness of mind, she also quoted from the book, “‘Those who are wise shall understand.’ ”

Daniel, foretelling the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes two centuries ago, had included an omen so that those who were wise would know when the final days of the age were dawning. “Forces sent by him shall occupy and profane the temple and the fortress. They shall abolish the regular burnt offering and set up the abomination that makes desolate.” Just as Antiochus had profaned the Temple two centuries ago, Roman arms had placed beside the sanctuary the forbidden images—the “abomination that makes desolate”—and no truly reverent sacrifice could be made in a desecrated Temple.

The end of the age had begun.

Maria knew her son’s heart. She knew that Yeshua was also asking for her approval to leave. They both knew that he felt the call of his destiny. “Go and do what you have to do,” she said. “You have my blessing.”

Yeshua, who from early youth had heard the call of the Lord, now knew that the Day of the Lord was fast approaching and he felt a need to purify himself among the Essenes. Two days later he left his home. He took the road to Tiberias and from there turned south along the Jordan River toward Khirbet Qumran, on the bank of the Dead Sea. The Essenes welcomed him, but they had a rule that no one could become a full member of the community without first living among them for three years. This rule frustrated Yeshua—he believed that the kingdom of the Lord was approaching quickly. Nevertheless, he knew where he belonged, and he committed himself.

His cousin, Yochanan ben Zecharyah, was already a member of the community. Orphaned at an early age, he had been taken in by them. Though the son of a Temple priest—or perhaps because of it—he had come to share the brothers’ belief that worship at the Temple had become polluted. He wanted to live at that higher level of purity the Essenes sought.

Of his time with the Essenes, Yeshua spoke very little. What he did say was that he felt at home. He was naturally inclined toward the life where all was shared and nothing belonged to the individual. His knowledge of the scriptures approached that of brothers who had spent their lives in study, although they were able to teach him what he did not know—how to interpret the prophecies hidden within the texts. They also were masters of the healing arts, and Yeshua learned from them. From what he avoided saying, I understood that Yeshua had formed deep bonds of brotherhood.

Though they valued humility, the Essenes had a high opinion of their own virtue. They called themselves the Sons of Light and lived perfect lives devoted to the Lord. They spent hours every day in prayer, purified themselves often in one of a dozen mikvot, and lived simply—eating their midday meal in silence on woven floor mats and sleeping every night in the caves along the nearby cliffs. 

They contrasted their own modest way of life with the Judaism that had the Temple as its center and focused on animal sacrifice. At the Temple, the high priest and those around him pretended to follow the Law, but actually they acted at the sufferance of the Romans. Thus, they polluted the true religion handed down by Moshe. Only those who were zealous for the Law were living according to God’s will, and the Essenes—the purest of the pure, as they saw themselves—believed that they could atone for the nation. It was vital to do so, because the time was fast approaching when God would destroy those who offended him and establish his earthly kingdom.

When Yeshua reached the end of his trial period, the community accepted him as a full member and gave him leave to go and visit his mother. He returned to Nazareth for a few days, but he found that nothing compared with his commitment to the Lord. Yacob was now twenty years of age and capable of heading the earthly family. Yeshua returned to Qumran and continued to prepare himself.

He remained there for more than four more years, praying and studying. But in the same year in which Yeshua was accepted as a full member of the Essene community—that is, the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius—his cousin Yochanan ben Zecharyah left them and went out to the wilderness to begin his mission.

After hearing the Lord’s call, Yochanan first returned to his homeland in the hills west of Jerusalem. After a time, he came back and crossed to the east side of the Jordan River. There, east of Jericho, in the wilderness of Perea, he committed himself to a simple life, living on locusts and wild honey. To travelers who passed near he would call out, “Repent, because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Many found him disturbing because of his wild appearance, but those who thought he might be a prophet stopped to listen to him.

To those who would listen he delivered a frightful message. The Lord was sick of the ways of his chosen people. He was sick of their sin and idolatry. Filled with wrath, he was about to strike down all those who observed his laws half-heartedly and reward those who were sincere. Time was short. Those who regretted their sinfulness had to make a decision. They had to cease their evil ways immediately and recommit themselves.

Yochanan told them that they did not need to go to the Temple and pay for a sacrifice to cleanse themselves of sin. The Lord would cleanse them, for nothing, in the Jordan River. They had merely to confess their sins honestly and be immersed and they could cross again into the Promised Land the way their ancestors did, prepared to be part of the coming kingdom.

That first year at Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan, only a few travelers were immersed and returned to Judea and Galilee. But those few told others about the new prophet, and every year an increasing number came to seek out Yochanan to be purified by him. In the end there were summer days in which he welcomed a hundred at a time, and he had to choose disciples to help him.

One day, as one of those hundreds, Yeshua appeared. Within days of his baptism he would change my life.




55    violated the Law of our fathers. – II Samuel 24:1-16. When David numbered the Israelites, God inflicted punishment. The reason is not clear.

55    There was a secret at the heart of their betrothal — John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew (Vol. 1), 96 and Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet, 63. The circumstances surrounding the conception and birth of Jesus are probably a permanent mystery. An early Jewish rumor was that he had been sired by a soldier in the Roman army by the name of Panthera. According to James Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, 330, n. 8, this rumor is repeated in three sources: the Palestinian Tosephta t. Hullin 2.24; the Babylonian Talmud (b. Avodah Zarah 16b-17a); and the Midrash (Ecclesiastes Rabba 1:8:3). Matthew 1:24-25 states that Joseph and Mary wed before the birth of Jesus, but had no marital relations. Mark 2:5-7 states that they were only engaged before he was born.

56    Yacob, Yoseh, Yehuda and Shimon — TJS, Mark 6:3. The brothers (in English, James, Joses, Juda, and Simon) are listed again in Matthew 13:55-56, and mentioned collectively in Mark 3:31-35, Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21, and John 2:12 and 7:3-5. Paul, who knew them personally, confirms their relationship to Jesus in I Cor. 9:5. He also specifically identifies Yacob (James) as “the Lord’s brother” in Gal. 1:19. James would lead the Jesus movement after the crucifixion, as noted in Acts 12:17, 15:13-21, and 21:17-26, and in Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, Book 20, Chapter 9.1.

56    Shalom and Maryam — John Painter, Just James, 210, citing The Panarion of Epiphanius (written ca. 375 C.E.). Translated into English as Salome and Mary, both sisters may be mentioned in the gospels without being identified as siblings of Jesus (Salome at Mark 15:40-41 and 16:1; Mary at Matthew 27:61 and 28:1).

56    Yosef wanted to return to his hometown, Bethlehem. — Luke 2:3 states that the return to Bethlehem was a requirement of the imperial census decree, but no corroborating evidence exists of this requirement and scholars doubt the claim. Many scholars believe that making Bethlehem Joseph’s hometown (and Jesus’ birthplace) was most likely midrash; since David’s town was Bethlehem his descendant, the messiah, could also be expected to come from there. The cousins and their absence is my own invention.

56    he returned with her to a cave he had noticed — Justin Martyr (100?-165?), in Chapter 78 of his Dialogue with Trypho, says Jesus was born in “a certain cave near the village” (of Bethlehem). In Against Celsus (Book 1, Chapter 51), Origen (185?-254?) says the cave was acknowledged as Jesus’ birthplace even by enemies of Christianity.

57    As required by the law of purification, — Leviticus 12:1-8.

57    these men had risen all over the region. (And following) — Josephus, The Jewish War, 2:4:1-3.

58    crucified two thousand patriots. — Josephus, Antiquities, 17.10.10.

58    Quirinius replaced the high priest Joazar with Hanan, — Josephus, Ibid., 18.2.1. (Hanan was the Hebrew version of Ananus.)

58    the Temple—the Lord’s sacred place of residence — Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots, 17.

58    Yehuda the Galilean rallied the people — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.1.1, 6.

58    Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, who in the book of Numbers — Numbers 25:6-13. According to Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots, 44, “…those known as the Kanna’im or Zelotai were commonly recognized as men who vigorously punished infringements of the Torah committed by their fellow Jews, following the scriptural example of Phinehas.”

58    and killed Yehuda, — Acts 5:37.

59    They gave all of their sons old and proud names — Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (Vol. 1), 350.

59    he began to pray the Shema — Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, 27.  “…it is probable that he, like most Jews, prayed the Shema twice daily, upon rising and going to bed.” The Shema consists of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, plus the recitation of a number of biblical passages.

59    allowing us to observe Shabbat and keep our own ways. — Klausner, From Jesus to Paul, 564.

60    he was irritated that devout Jews did not serve — Smallwood, The Jews Under Roman Rule, 137, 140.

60    Tiberius sent Valerius Gratus (And the following references to Pontius Pilate, Ananus, Ismael, Eleazar, Shimon and Yosef Caiaphas) — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.2.2.

60    Yosef and Maria went up to Jerusalem, — Luke 2:41-47. Marcus J. Borg speaks for most scholars when he calls this incident “almost certainly legendary.” (The Search for Jesus, ed. Hershel Shanks, 56.) I include it—somewhat modified—because it seems likely that the formidable intelligence Jesus possessed would be apparent in his youth and this scene provides an illustration. I portray Jesus discovered missing within an hour, not after “a day’s journey,” which strains credulity.

60    Solomon’s Portico — A covered porch that extended along the eastern wall of the Temple mount, facing the Temple entrance, a place where religious, civic, and casual conversations took place.

61    even finding his Galilean accent amusing. — Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 53-55. Galileans failed to distinguish Hebrew gutturals correctly. When they were away from home, it was customary not to call on them to read in the synagogue because the congregation had trouble understanding them.

61    Hulda Gates — Ground-level entryways in the south wall of the Temple Mount, through which visitors could climb staircases to the courtyards that encompassed the Temple.

61    As a member of the Sanhedrin years later, — Acts 5:34-40.

62    In the fifth year of Tiberius the emperor’s nephew died — Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome, 111-126, 163, 197; Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, 153-157. The fifth year of Tiberius extended from August of 19 to August of 20.

62    The wife of the Roman Senator Saturninus, — Klausner, From Jesus to Paul, 20-21.

63    Populating the new city proved no simple task. — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.2.3.

64    Yosef’s trade of craftsman and builder — John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew (Vol. 1), 281. The identification of Jesus as a carpenter occurs in Mark 6:3, but the Greek word used is tekton. According to Meier, quoting Richard A. Batey (see Note 152), the traditional translation of “carpenter” is misleading: “The term tekton could be applied to any worker who plied his trade ‘with a hard material that retains its hardness throughout the operation, e.g., wood and stone or even horn or ivory.’ ”

64    succumbed to a fever — My invention. No record exists of how or when Joseph died.

64    and punished those Jews who seemed too friendly with the Romans. — Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots, 39.

64    Built as it was on a burial ground, incorporating Roman-style baths, — Chilton, Mary Magdalene: A Biography, 22. This scene is from my imagination.

65    neither Sadducee nor Pharisee equals an Essene (And following points) — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.1.5 and 17.13.3; Jewish War, 2.8.4 and 2.8.6.

65    They are notable for owning everything in common. — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.1.5.

65    Except for one group that accepts marriage — Josephus, Jewish War, 2.8.13.

65    they live without wives and keep no servants, — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.1.5.

66    one among a couple of thousand inhabitants, — Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, 192.

66    In the twelfth year of his reign, — Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome, 186. The year 26.

67    not as a procurator but as a prefect. — Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, 59.

67    he also had thousands of soldiers at his command — Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots, 66, note 4. Pilate apparently had at his disposal about 3,000 men. One cohort (about 600 men) would have been garrisoned at Jerusalem.

67    he gave orders that this bust and the signa of the legions (And following) — Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.1 and Jewish War 2.9.4.

68    “The ‘abomination that desolates,’ ” — Daniel 12:11 and Mark 13:14. (NRSV)

68    “‘Those who are wise shall understand,’ ” — Daniel 12:10. (NRSV)

69    “Forces sent by him shall occupy and profane — Daniel 11:31. (NRSV)

69   The Essenes welcomed him, — That Jesus spent years among the Essenes is speculation based on inference—e.g., his communalist lifestyle, mastery of the healing arts, abhorrence of taking oaths, seeking and interpreting prophecy in scripture, his followers being referred to as “people of the way” and “Sons of Light,” etc. He also differed with the Essenes, mingling with sinners and the unclean, for example. In my view, he spent time with the Essenes but outgrew them when, like John the Baptizer, he felt called by God. Convinced that the age was about to end, he wanted to go among and purify as many wayward Jews as possible. (To first-century Jews, sickness was a consequence of sin. By healing/purifying those in need, Jesus was preparing them for the kingdom. See Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 61.) If connecting Jesus with the Essenes is a mistake, he almost certainly matured in some similar situation. Had his family witnessed him developing his teaching and healing skills, they would not have experienced such a shock when he launched his ministry in Capernaum.

69    without first living among them for three years. — Josephus, The Jewish War, 2.8.7.

69    was already a member of the community. — Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S. J., The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins, 19-21. Fitzmyer gives seven reasons in support of the plausibility of John having lived among the Essenes. Among them: his camp was only a few miles from Qumran; his immersion ritual seems to echo the ritual washing of community members at Qumran; the passage all four gospels use to explain why he is in the desert—Isaiah 40:3—is the same cited in the Essene Manual of Discipline to explain why their community is in the desert, etc.

69    Orphaned at an early age, he had been taken in — Josephus, The Jewish War, 2.8.2. The main group of the Essenes foreswore marriage, recruiting other people’s children to join them. As for being orphaned, both John’s father and mother were in their old age when he was born, so it is plausible.

70    They called themselves the Sons of Light — Wise et al, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 120 (1QS, 3:13 and 24-25).

70    They spent hours every day in prayer, (And following) — Crossan & Reed, Excavating Jesus, 156.

70    mikvot — (Hebrew) Pools of water for ritual bathing. Singular: mikvah.

70    the Essenes … believed that they could atone for the nation. — Wise et al, Dead Sea Scrolls, 122 (1QS, 5:3-6).

71    and establish his earthly kingdom. — Ibid., 130 (1QS, 9:10-11).

71    the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius — Luke 3:1. We would date the year as 29 C.E.

71    living on locusts and wild honey — TJS, Mark 1:6.

71    “Repent, because the Kingdom of Heaven — TJS, Matthew 3:2. (KJV)

72    that the Lord would cleanse them, for nothing, — Crossan, The Historical Jesus, 231. Citing Morton Smith, Crossan agrees that providing a free alternative to the Temple rite was “John’s great invention.”

72    They had merely to confess their sins honestly — TJS, Mark 1:4.

72    they could cross again into the Promised Land — Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 43. “John did not, in other words, baptize in the Jordan; he baptized in the Jordan.” The people John purified could not fail to understand that they were reprising Joshua’s colonization of the Promised Land. They became not a cohesive band the authorities could attack but a diffuse web of sanctified individuals awaiting the Lord’s coming.




6                   Yeshua and his family.


On the morning of the day after I met Yeshua, we all attended the synagogue in Kapharnahum. I had not been there before, so I cannot say how many normally attended. On this day the synagogue was filled. I made my way to sit with the other women and we took the last few spaces on one bench. Behind us others kept coming and at last I gave my seat to an elderly woman who seemed unsteady. She sat down beside Rivka and I found a place where I could stand against the wall.

The room kept filling. When all of the steps and benches were filled young men and boys began to line the walls in rows, in some places two or three in front of each other. I later learned that most of the people came hoping to see Yeshua; his power to heal had created great excitement.

Since I did not see him, I kept watching the entrance, thinking that he had waited outside and wondering where he would stand now that the benches were all filled. Then I noticed a man making subtle gestures to his companion, to direct his attention. Following his guide I saw Yeshua already seated, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. With his head bowed low and covered by his prayer shawl, he was not easy to identify.

The rabbi came and began the service. The passages of the Law were read first, then the prophets, and nothing seemed unusual until the time came to invite men to come forward and comment.

Yeshua rose first. 

When he turned to face the congregation, all were awaiting what he had to say. Not a person stirred.

“There was a rich man,” he began, “who had a great deal of money. He said, ‘I shall invest my money so that I may sow, reap, plant, and fill my storehouses with produce, that I may lack nothing.’ ” He swept his gaze around the room. “These were the things he was thinking in his heart, but that very night he died.” After a pause, he added, “Anyone here with two ears had better listen!”

No one knew how to react. No one had ever heard such direct teaching in the synagogue, teaching not tied to scripture.

“I am here,” Yeshua said, “to deliver a message. I am here to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven.” He stood there with authority, the way a commander would addressing his troops, his words a challenge to everyone who met his eyes. “Do you want to go on pretending you don’t see the signs of the time?” He turned to address another part of the room. “Do you want to go on making plans for tomorrow? You all know that the eyes of the Lord are upon us right now. He is waiting for you to make a decision.” He cleaved the air with his right hand. “Right now!”

A deep silence settled in. No one knew how to respond to him, not even the rabbi. In just a few moments, with just a few words, he had created tension in the room that was almost unbearable.

Yeshua appeared to desire the silence. The longer it lasted, the more their inability to speak meant that his message could penetrate into their hearts. He used the time to look down each row. Many men would not return his gaze.

I expected someone to break the silence with the obvious question, “What would you have us do?” Instead, while he glanced from face to face, someone called out so loudly that it caused every heart to jump.


A man who had been shifting restlessly arose from a squatting position. I could not see his face until he stepped forward. I then perceived something wrong with his eyes. He had the appearance of someone possessed. “What have you to do with us, Yeshua of Nazareth?” he shrieked. “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

With great presence, Yeshua extended his hand toward him, spreading his fingers. He glared fiercely while the possessed man mumbled to himself, his own eyes wandering. “You will listen to me!” Yeshua said. The man heeded him, now staring into Yeshua’s eyes.

The man stopped mumbling and went quiet, as unmoving as a statue.

Yeshua clenched his outstretched hand into a fist with one finger pointed at the man’s face. Sure of his complete attention, Yeshua commanded, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

For the space of two breaths the man seemed paralyzed. His eyelids drew up. At last he began to emit a howl. The sound started at speaking level and continued to increase in strength while his body began to shudder. The man finally dropped to the floor and was beset by spasms. Then the evil spirit appeared to flee him. He went limp.

I could read in their astonished faces what the men were thinking. “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” Men were mystified. Men were in awe.

The rabbi had no idea what to do, having never witnessed events such as these before.

Yeshua chose that moment of general confusion to leave. His disciples stood up and accompanied him. None of the women felt it appropriate to leave before the rabbi spoke, so we remained. However, when Yeshua and the others had departed, the rabbi stood up, obviously overwhelmed. He said that, in view of the unusual events, he thought it best to let the congregation leave early.

Rivka and I hurried out to find Yeshua. We did not have to look for long. We supposed he might be at the house of Shimon, which had been pointed out to us that morning, which was not far from the synagogue. He was there beside the gate, surrounded by Shimon, his brother Andreas, and a crowd.

Shimon was saying as we approached, “We can rest inside, Master, but my wife’s mother is ill. Will you help her?”

“Of course,” Yeshua said.

He went through the gate, followed by Shimon and Andreas and the sons of Zebedee. Those from the town who were not among his disciples waited outside. Not sure what I should do, I stood at the gate. Andreas noticed me and came back and took my hand and Rivka held to mine and we both entered to be with the disciples. Yoanna and Sousanna followed us.

Shimon’s wife was sitting beside her mother, who was lying on a cot in the main room, near the doorway.

“I’ve told you about Yeshua,” Shimon said to his mother-in-law. “He’s here to help you.” He motioned for his wife to give up the chair to allow Yeshua to sit beside the woman.

“What’s bothering you?” Yeshua asked her.

“A fever,” the woman replied. She was an old woman of more than fifty, her hair mostly gray.

“How long has it lasted?”

“Two days.”

“You must understand,” Yeshua said to the woman, “the Lord works through me. Do you believe he has the power forgive your sins and heal you?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Then I am going to pass along that power to you.” He placed his hand on hers. “Feel the power flow into you.”

I watched her take a deep breath. Almost instantly she seemed more peaceful.    

“The Lord is healing you,” he said. “You feel it, don’t you?”

I saw a relieved smile. “Yes.”

That was all he did, touch her hand, and when he rose from the chair still holding her hand she stood up with him, feeling much better. “Rabbi,” she said, “would you like something to drink?”

Yeshua sat and talked with his disciples throughout the afternoon. I only heard part of what he said, since I spoke with the women at the hearth. Those occasions when I overheard them they were speaking of the coming visit to Jerusalem for the holy days.

When the sun went down I started to help the women prepare the evening meal, but immediately the sick began to arrive at the door. For about two hours they came, and soon I was helping to make them comfortable while they waited outside. Shimon kept coming to the door to ask who was next, and he would take the person inside to see Yeshua. Almost everyone he saw showed remarkable change, whether he used his oils or treated them by his touch or his commanding voice. He seemed to have an unbounded power to undo the work of Satan.

Rivka and I slept on the floor of Shimon’s house that night, along with Yoanna and Sousanna. When I woke the next day, at dawn, Yeshua had already slipped away to pray. By the time he returned at midday a new crowd had gathered. Along with the other women, I tried to comfort those who were suffering while they waited their turn to see him, but as the afternoon went on the crowd grew larger instead of smaller. The street filled and I spoke to men and women who had walked from the nearby town of Korazin to see the amazing healer. Then we began to encounter people who had come from Bethsaida, the town at the border with Gaulanitis, where Herodes’ brother Philippos ruled. Later in the afternoon people even arrived from Julias, on the other side of the border.

For the most part people were patient and waited their turn, in spite of their distress. But about the tenth or eleventh hour there was a disturbance. I had gone inside the house to ask for something to eat and Shimon’s wife had given me some raisins and a pomegranate. I stood for a moment and watched Yeshua at work. Suddenly I heard shouting at the front door.

A group of people demanded to be let inside. I understood the urgency of the crowd, but from where I stood I could not see that either of the two men in the doorway suffered from sickness. The young man in front insisted to Shimon, “Either bring him to us or let us come inside to see him!”

“I told you,” Shimon said, “he is overwhelmed right now! All of these people are waiting for him to cure them.”

“They don’t understand,” said a second young man standing next to the first. He seemed older, though similar in the face, and I guessed they were brothers. “He’s no healer—he’s a builder.”

If it had been someone other than Shimon blocking the doorway, they might have tried to push their way inside. He was a formidable a man to confront. “You don’t know him!” Shimon replied. “He’s an amazing healer.”

“Let us see him for one moment,” said the second man. “If he’s the man we think, we know him very well—he’s our brother.”

While Shimon considered that, the first man, more brash and insistent than his older brother, said, “He’s no healer! He studied the Law with too much zeal. He has gone out of his mind!”

“Shimon!” someone called out. Nathanael had come out of the room where the sick were being healed to learn the reason for the disturbance. Shimon, brother of Andreas, turned to answer him, but then he realized that Nathanael was not addressing him but the man outside the door. “Yacob!” Nathanael added, and now the older of the two brothers leaned to one side to peer in.

“Bar-Tolmai,” he responded. “Is Yeshu here?”

Shimon now stepped aside to allow them to enter. Instead, the two young men parted to permit the entry of a woman. That was the first glimpse I ever had of Maria. She appeared small of stature passing between her sons, but she was their mother and they respected her. She strode into the house toward Nathanael, who beckoned her toward the room where Yeshua was healing people. Yacob and Shimon followed. Behind them came two more brothers, whose names I learned were Yoseh and Yehuda, and finally two girls entered behind the men. They were Yeshua’s sisters, Shalom and Maryam.

I fell in line behind them all, curious to see how Yeshua would act with his family.

“Yeshu,” said Maria as soon as she saw him. “What are you doing?” Her long hair hid the sides of her face and she pushed it back on both sides at once onto her shoulders, revealing skin darkened by the sun.

Yeshua was smoothing some oil on the back of a woman’s neck. “These people need their sins forgiven,” he said.

“Where did you learn this? From the Essenes?”

“I’ve learned a great deal in the years I’ve been gone.”

“Why do this here?” she asked. “Why come to Kapharnahum?”

He answered, “Nobody lights a lamp and puts it underneath a bushel basket or in a hidden place.” He kept rubbing on the oil as he spoke. “Rather, it is placed on a lamp stand so that all who go in and out may see the light.”

It seemed very odd to hear him address his mother the way he did the crowd, but the more I saw of Yeshua the more I understood that he felt no need or desire to be like other men.

For some time his family watched him heal those who came to him. They seemed as amazed by his abilities as any of the rest of us. A man carried in by his son and a neighbor stood up and shuffled out the door on his own feet. A man who had lost the power to speak found it restored and praised the Lord in a husky voice. A boy whose shoulder and arm had been burned in a fire felt the pain disappear under the oil Yeshua applied. The longer they watched him at work, the more his relatives had to reconcile the memory of the boy they had known with the physician he had become.

From the way they behaved at the doorway, I thought they had meant to seize him and take him back to Nazareth. In truth, they had come because he insisted that they take part in his mission. The oldest man in the family, he directed the family’s affairs. During his visit to Nazareth and Cana, he had told them to sell what they owned and come join him in Kapharnahum. He persuaded them that the time was short and the Lord had singled him out for a great mission to prepare for the final days and the coming of the kingdom. They came as he requested, though reluctantly and without understanding what sort of man he had become and how different his mission would be from what they expected.

I learned this from Nathanael after they left to find lodging—Shimon’s house would not do because of the great press of sick people and the number of us already staying under his roof. Nathanael also told me of Yeshua’s reaction when they heard the clamor and Nathanael suggested that Yeshua’s mother and brothers and sisters might be the ones at the front door. Glancing around at his disciples and supporters, Yeshua said, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother!”

That evening we all gathered for the meal: his family, his disciples, Shimon’s wife and mother-in-law, Rivka, and the women he had healed—myself included. Yeshua asked the Lord’s blessing for the meal, and when we had started to eat he announced what most already knew—that the next day the group would be leaving for Jerusalem for Passover. Until that moment, I had not really thought of myself as part of his group. Rivka and I had delayed returning to Magdala in order to help with his healing efforts; I felt I owed it to him for driving out my demons. However, our lives were still in Magdala; his great mission was something apart. Then he went on to say that after the festival he intended to go into the wilderness of Judea to help Yochanan ben Zecharyah accomplish his plan to purify the nation. The moment I realized that he did not intend to return to Kapharnahum after the feast my mood sank. When I asked myself why I should have that feeling, I also realized that I was expecting—hoping—to see him again when he returned.

That night I experienced one of those moments which, though trifling, we see in hindsight has redirected the flow of our life. I had been talking with the women in Yeshua’s family, Maria, Shalom, and Maryam. Maria, especially, was interested in hearing my story—how the seven demons had taken command of my sinful life and how Yeshua had mastered them and driven them out of me. Even knowing of her son’s great intelligence and his passionate commitment to the Lord, she had trouble accepting that he now had such power. She wanted me to describe how I felt when the demons ruled me and how I felt when they departed. I told her all—all except how Yeshua afterward had kissed the crown of my head and gently stroked my hair.

When I finished telling my story I turned toward where I had last seen Yeshua. He was still there, illuminated by the light of the moon, speaking with the sons of Zebedee. The wind was cool off the lake, and since he was not wearing his cloak it came to me that he might like to have over his shoulders one of the small blankets we used to keep warm while sleeping.

I ventured up to him and asked him.

“Yes,” he replied, “I would appreciate that.”

I went to the cot where the blankets were stacked to find one for him. Shimon’s wife was nearby.  “It is a chilly night,” she said.

“Yes,” I said, “but it’s not for me. I’m taking it to Yeshua.”

“You can save yourself the trouble,” she said. “I asked him only a moment ago.”

I stood there, not knowing what to say or do. I picked up a blanket nevertheless. “Perhaps I misunderstood,” I said.

I left her there, and though I approached him unsurely he met me with a smile. “Thank you.” He made no movement to take the blanket from me, so I stepped behind where he was sitting and spread it across his shoulders. His hands came up to clutch it. As they did his right hand stroked the back of my left before it took hold of the cloth. Just that, nothing more, but I felt a tingle at the back of my neck.

I hesitated. As I came around beside him to leave, he glanced up. “You’re very kind, Mariamne.”

I had not taken ten steps before I realized that my life in Magdala was over.




79    “There was a rich man,” — TJS, Thomas 63:1-4. (TJS)

79    No one had ever heard such direct teaching — TJS, Mark 1:21-22.

80    someone called out so loudly that it caused every heart to jump. (And following) — TJS, Mark 1:23-28. (NRSV)

81    the house of Shimon (And following) — TJS, Mark 1:29-31.

83    whether he used his oils — Mark 6:13. Jesus apparently used liniments to treat some conditions and supplied them to his disciples to use when serving in his behalf.

83    an unbounded power to undo the work of Satan. — Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 61. “In the world of Jesus, the devil was believed to be at the basis of sickness as well as sin. The idea that demons were responsible for all moral and physical evil had penetrated deeply into Jewish religious thought in the period following the Babylonian exile…”

83    Gaulanitis — Today the location of the Golan Heights, the mountains along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

83    about the tenth or eleventh hour — About four or five in the afternoon.

84    He has gone out of his mind!” — TJS, Mark 3:21. (NRSV)

85    Yacob and Shimon followed. Behind them came two more brothers, — TJS, Mark 6:3. Mark names the brothers of Jesus—James, Joses, Judas and Simon—and refers to his sisters.

85    Yeshua’s sisters, Shalom and Maryam. — John Painter, Just James, 210, citing The Panarion of Epiphanius. Known in English as Salome and Mary, both are possibly mentioned in the gospels without being identified as his sisters (Salome at Mark 15:40-41 and 16:1; Mary at Matthew 27:61 and 28:1).

85    “These people need their sins forgiven,” — Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 69. “…rabbis of the second and third century AD were still voicing the opinion that no one could recover from illness until all his sins were remitted.”

85    “Nobody lights a lamp and puts it — TJS, Thomas 33:2-3. (GOT)

87    “Who are my mother and my brothers?” — TJS, Mark 3:31-35. (NRSV)

87    the next day the group would be leaving for Jerusalem for Passover. — John 2:12-13. 


7                   I encounter Zealots.                           


I arose before dawn after sleeping very little. Nothing in my life was more important that day than to speak with Yeshua before he went out to pray and savor his hour of solitude. I waited at the corner of the house, lurking in the darkness, clutching a blanket over my shoulders against the chill, noticing the faint glow in the east behind the hills of Gaulanitis, listening to the first cocks that saw the light.

When finally he came out of the house, someone accompanied him. As they neared I recognized Yacob, his brother.

Yeshua seemed surprised to find anyone else awake. Once he had seen me I felt no need for greetings. “I decided during the night. May I join your group?”

“To accompany us to Jerusalem?”

“To accompany you on your mission.”

There was still not enough light to read his eyes or his expression. I felt a flush of joy when he replied, “I hoped you would.”

“We’ll pass through Magdala,” I said. “May I have time to pick up some things?”

“You’ll need to do more than that.” His tone was caring yet firm.


“In the new kingdom everything is shared. If you want to join us, you’ll need to donate what you have to the common good.”

I had been aware that those in his group seemed heedless of who owned possessions—that they acted like members of one large family. Being young, the possessions my father had left me seemed unimportant. To me the decision was an effortless one. “Of course,” I said.

“Can you take care of everything in one day?” he asked. “I leave in an hour or two, but a second group will start from Kapharnahum tomorrow. You can travel with them for protection. We’ll meet in Jerusalem.”

“Yes,” I said, “yes.”

He smiled and turned away. Yacob followed him. A few paces down the street, Yeshua turned and looked back. “Welcome,” he said.

I hurried inside to tell Rivka. Being young and impetuous, and having made my decision in the middle of the night, it did not occur to me that she might not have the same feelings. Waking from a sound sleep, she listened to my excited recounting of events with an odd expression. Only when I paused did I realize how little she shared my excitement. She stroked the back of my hand, “You’re young, Mariamne. You haven’t thought this through.”

Coming from a woman who now filled the role of my mother, this unexpected hesitation cast a shadow on this brightest of all days in my life.

“I spent the night thinking,” I said.

“You have known these people for only three days.”


“—is a remarkable man. Perhaps a prophet. You are grateful that he healed you. But when you become a member of a group like this, you don’t know where it will lead.”

We had been talking softly, aware of the others sleeping in the house, but it was growing lighter. People were beginning to stir. Shimon’s wife passed near on the way outside to begin preparing food.

“We’ll talk about this on the way to Magdala,” Rivka said.

Her hesitancy troubled me. Didn’t she realize how amazing this man was, and how rare the opportunity? I knew that no amount of talking would change my mind. I fell silent, but in my mind I began to consider all I had to do when I returned to our home.

When Yeshua and Yacob came back, everyone was finishing the morning meal. Yeshua scooped some barley bread into a bowl of lentils and drank a cup of goat’s milk while pacing, his mind focused on his upcoming journey.

Yeshua had attracted a new follower named Mattiya, or, in the Greek way, Maththaios. The morning before, when Yeshua went out for his morning prayers, he had walked in the direction of the border with Gaulanitis. Entering the town of Bethsaida, he noticed Mattiya at work in his toll booth, writing some document. Mattiya had been visiting the synagogue in Kapharnahum when Yeshua struck the crowd with wonder by commanding the unclean spirit to leave the man with wild eyes. For a moment afterward, the mighty rabbi whom the demons feared had glanced directly at young Mattiya. Now, as Mattiya looked up from his writing, he saw those same penetrating eyes. When Yeshua said to him, “Follow me!” he responded as though he had been commanded by a prince. He stood up and walked away from his workplace and came to join the group.

Mattiya now entered the room behind the sons of Zebedee. Another man followed behind him. Mattiya said, “This is the friend I spoke of, rabbi.”

When I saw the last man come forward I was astonished. If Yeshua had not been standing before me I would have thought that Mattiya was playing some joke. Though younger, the man bore an eerie resemblance to Yeshua—possessing the same heavy eyebrows, the same hair, and even a forward turn to the shoulders, perhaps moreso than the shoulders of Yeshua. The two gazed at each other, feeling the strangeness of witnessing someone with their own features staring back at them.

Yeshua finally grinned and said, “Another Son of the Storm-Wind?” He found it amusing to refer to the sons of Zebedee, because of their tempestuous nature, as Sons of the Storm-Wind. Still smiling he added, “But this one is near enough to be my twin.”

“My name is Yehuda,” the man said.

“Another Yehuda?” Yeshua said, thinking of his brother. “That may be a problem. What do we call you then?” Hesitating for only a moment, he said, “How about Tooma?”—that being the Aramaic word for twin. “Yehuda Tooma,” Yeshua said. In time, he became more widely known by the Hellenized version—Thomas.

“He has seen you heal and seen you teach,” Yacob said. “He wants to join us.”

Yeshua gazed at him for a moment. “Are you prepared?”

“At once—just as soon as my father is buried.”

Yeshua looked into his eyes. “You will have to choose. I leave in less than an hour.” Then he said, in that granite-like voice of authority, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

The brazenness of his words took my breath away. This was my first encounter with Yeshua’s rock-hard resolve. Though I never could have been so demanding myself, in time I grew to understand him. The course of history was about to change, the heavens to open, the world to transform forever. A man who sees an abyss opening in front of him views things differently from his brother strolling along a country path on a pleasant day.

Yeshua’s challenge also stunned Yehuda Thomas. Mattiya felt his friend’s distress and tried to reassure him with a sincere glance and quick nod of the head. With that reassurance, Thomas overcame his reservations about not showing proper respect as a son.

“I choose you,” he said.

Yeshua’s stern countenance relaxed. Just as Mattiya had done, he nodded himself. “I want you with me today.”

How I wished that he had been that direct with me. I had to content myself with the memory of his gentle comment: “I hoped you would.”

Yeshua set off soon afterward. Thomas accompanied him, as did Yeshua’s brother Yacob, Shimon and his brother Andreas, and Philippos and Nathanael. Of the sons of Zebedee, only Yukhanan would go. Yacob’s wife was near to delivering a child. I particularly regretted Nathanael leaving because I had hoped to speak with him on the walk up to Jerusalem. I wanted to know more about Yeshua and his followers and I felt comfortable asking Nathanael.      

The group I would accompany included Yeshua’s brothers Shimon and Yehuda, as well as Maria and his sisters. His brother Yoseh, who was childlike and unworldly even though grown, and who always remained in the care of the women, came with us as well. They all remained in Kapharnahum for the day, making preparations.

Rivka and I said farewell and started toward Magdala.

As much as I tried to convince her to join the group—after all, Sousanna and Yoanna were coming, Yoanna annoying her husband to do so—Rivka, with equal emotion, kept trying to make me understand that what I was doing was both foolish and dangerous. At last, when we were approaching the tower for which our town is named, she confessed the truth. She felt the power of Yeshua and said that if she were twenty years younger she would follow him. However, having no one but herself, she must think of her old age. She could not simply sell her possessions and give them to the group.

The day that had started with so much promise ended by being the saddest of my life so far. As I decided what to take along, or to leave to Rivka, or to sell at the market, the two of us kept weeping at the thought of being separated. For her it would be much worse, because she would be left alone.

I wept much of the night and truly missed Nathanael the next morning. It would have been less painful to part from my home and my old life if I had been met by a sympathetic face. Instead, the two men who came for me were Yehuda and Shimon—both courteous, but both there to perform a duty, not to consider my feelings. Fortunately, Maria and the sisters were waiting for us at the edge of town. They understood my turmoil.

We followed the road to Tiberias. There we stopped to collect Yoanna. Her husband Chouzas, the steward of Herodes, came out with her. With Herodes already departed for Jerusalem, Chouzas had decided to accompany us for the feast in order to meet this wonder-worker who had healed his wife in moments when the king’s physicians could not do so in years. He brought one of the royal carts, horse-drawn and much finer in appearance than our old cart, which was a simple wooden platform drawn by an ass. A servant accompanied them to drive the two horses. Because of Sousanna’s age, Chouzas invited her to ride along in the cart with them.

We continued to the south end of the sea, then, following the dusty trail, crossed the border into that tip of the Decapolis that extends west of the Jordan River. Our small group was part of a steady stream of pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for Passover. Some we overtook. Others passed us when we paused to rest or when we stopped for the midday meal.

After midday the road came nearer to the line of hills on our right side, that is, in the west. Chouzas, speaking to his wife, said in a voice loud enough for some of us to hear, “We need to stay vigilant. There may be Zealots in those hills.”

I understood that, as one of the king’s men, he constantly heard stories of the bandits. But when Chouzas said this I happened to be looking toward Shimon. I saw him glance at his brother Yehuda in a way that suggested that they shared some view about what Chouzas had said. This caused me to recall their uneasy expressions when Yoanna had come out of the palace accompanied by her husband. Neither had made a comment then, but they glanced at each other in just the same way.

Naturally, because the subject was Zealots, I was concerned. After we entered an area where the trail narrowed to pass among stands of trees, I found a moment when I could walk alongside Shimon without being overheard by anyone else. I ventured to ask, “Do you think we need to fear about bandits?”

“No,” he said.

“You sound very sure.”

“Take a look at us,” he said. “Would you attack this group hoping to gain anything?” What he said seemed mainly true. We were only poor pilgrims, accompanied by one ass drawing an old cart piled with our tents and baggage. Most of us were dressed in ragged clothing. The palace wagon might attract attention, but even Chouzas and Yoanna were garbed in plain wool.

“Still,” I said, thinking of the palace wagon, “the Zealots attack for other reasons. Don’t they search for Roman sympathizers?”          

Shimon gazed at me for a long moment. I now understand that he was trying to decide how much he could trust me. “You said ‘bandits.’ Now you speak of ‘Zealots.’ Don’t you know that the Zealots are on the side of God?”

I considered how best to respond, but I never had the chance. The forest erupted in loud shouts. Armed men leaped out from behind the trees in front of us, three with short swords and one with a mace. Their abrupt appearance and the shouting terrified me, and the horses and the ass reacted as well, struggling to escape their traces. Whirling to find somewhere to run I spotted two more men in the trail behind us, brandishing daggers. There was no escape.

Chouzas drew a sword and his servant pulled a knife, watching while the attackers surrounded their cart. The men in front of us took up positions around Yehuda and Shimon, who both had drawn their daggers.

“We’re pilgrims!” Yehuda pleaded. “Pilgrims! On our way to Jerusalem for the holy days!”

Maria and the sisters had gathered near Yehuda and Shimon. Too frightened to move, I was standing somewhat apart and the largest of the bandits seized my wrist and pulled me along as he strode toward the palace cart. In his other hand he held a sharp sword. He stood more than a head taller than I did and had a thick chest and full beard. Beside one eye he had a thick scar and the hand that gripped my wrist was mutilated from some battle—most of his thumb was missing.

He directed his comments at Chouzas, who appeared to be the leader of our group, standing as he was in the horse-drawn cart with a driver who was clearly his servant. “Who are you?”

“Friend!” Shimon called from behind him. “We’re only pilgrims! Let me have a moment and I’ll convince you.” He spoke over his shoulder to the burly leader of the group, but he kept his body turned forward—toward one of the men with swords. He did something then. I am not sure what. The leader’s painful grip on my wrist commanded most of my attention. All I know is that while Shimon’s left hand kept clutching the dagger, his right hand was out of my view in front of him. Did the man facing Shimon then give a meaningful glance at the man who held me? It seemed so, but I was far from observant at the time. I feared every moment that the sword the burly man gripped in his other hand would come slashing toward me.

“We’re pilgrims,” Yehuda repeated, “going up to Jerusalem. Why would you attack the Lord’s people?”

Chouzas peered down in silence, waiting to see what the leader would do.

“Let me have a moment,” Shimon said again. “I can explain. We’re simple pilgrims.”

The man with the scar growled at me, “Kneel here.” When I complied he released my wrist. “Watch them,” he said to the two men with daggers, indicating the people in the wagon as well as me.

As the man with the scar moved toward Shimon and Yehuda, Shimon handed his dagger to his brother and turned his palms upward to show that he was now unarmed.

“Over here,” the man with the scar said to him. He kept his own sword unsheathed and ready. He called back over his shoulder, “Watch them all.”

They did not go far—we could see every movement and hear their voices—but their words were indistinct. The leader turned so that he could look back and watch us while Shimon spoke, and of course that meant that Shimon’s voice was directed away from us.

The man’s fierce expression began to change and before long they started back toward us and it seemed clear that the danger had passed. I was so relieved that all I could think of was the lessening of my fear. Only later, when something about Shimon’s explanation struck me as insincere, did I think back and find the incident strange. Why had the man taken Shimon out of our hearing? And why did his demeanor change so quickly? What could Shimon have said?

We all became aware of distant voices even before Shimon and the leader rejoined us. Another group of pilgrims was approaching us from behind.

“Go on your way,” said the man with the scar, slipping his sword back into his sheath. “You are not the ones we were looking for.” He gestured and without another word his band followed him back into the trees, moving eastward, in the direction of the river.

Shimon at once began to urge the ass forward, explaining that the men seemed be searching for someone who had stolen some of their goods, a group that was supposed to be on the road to Jerusalem that day. I’m not sure that anyone in the group fully believed him, Chouzas in particular. Yet there was a general willingness, relieved as we all were, not to pose questions just then. There were hours of walking left before we could feel safe inside the walls of Scythopolis, and we all felt better putting the matter behind us.

Of course the encounter occupied my thoughts. Eventually, however, as the afternoon continued and no one disturbed us again, I began to think about Yochanan the Baptizer—the holy man who had purified Yeshua and started him on his ministry. He lived somewhere on the eastern side of the Jordan River and after Scythopolis we would cross to that side for the remainder of the journey to Jericho. I began to hope that we would come near his camp so I could see him.

Walking much of the time beside Maria and her daughters, I was able to learn about Yeshua’s childhood. They told me about his love for the scriptures, his great piety and his persuasiveness with his peers. When I mentioned that I hoped we would catch a glimpse of Yochanan the Baptizer, Maria surprised me by stating that we would likely stop at his camp. His mother Elisheba was a relative of hers. While awaiting the birth of Yeshua, Maria had gone to live with Elisheba and her husband Zecharyah.

Maria also told how she had learned of Yochanan’s mission across the Jordan when he grew to manhood, and how she wanted to take her children to visit him. When Yeshua returned from his first three years in Qumran and revealed to them his aim to remain with the Essenes, she and the brothers tried to persuade him, “Yochanan ben Zecharyah is immersing for the remission of sins. Let us go and be immersed by him.”

Yeshua, who had been living beside Yochanan, surprised her by his response. “What sin have I committed that I should go to be immersed by him? Unless possibly what I just said was spoken in ignorance.” In the end he did go, but not with his family. Only when his time with the Essenes was finished and he felt that it was time to begin his ministry did he seek out Yochanan.

At dusk we reached the gate of Scythopolis. We made camp inside the city wall for protection, joining a crowd of pilgrims, several hundred at least, that would pass the night together.

The men built a fire and I helped the women prepare our meal. Later I noticed Yehuda sitting alone, away from the crowd. He was sitting on the ground with crossed ankles, gazing up at the first few of a myriad of stars beginning to appear.

I commented that the sky was beautiful.

“Yes,” he agreed.

Yehuda was less intense than his younger brother and less guarded in his speech. I could not pass up this chance to speak with him. “That was brave of Shimon today.”

“What do you mean?”

“To hand you his dagger and go talk with the man.”

“We were outnumbered. It was much better to try and make him understand.”

“What did Shimon say to him?”

“He simply assured him that we were pilgrims.”

“Didn’t it seem strange that the man suddenly stopped threatening us and agreed to talk things over?”

“I think he began to see that we weren’t the people they wanted to find.”

“Who were they looking for?”

“I don’t know.”

“Didn’t he give Shimon a name or description?” I asked.

Yehuda turned his head toward me. The light of the campfires illuminated him from behind, shining through his tousled hair. It was not thick and woolly like Shimon’s and Yeshua’s. I could not see his eyes, but when he spoke his response was more of a challenge than a question, “Do you think you would recognize the name?”

I understood that my intention was too obvious. “I suppose not,” I said. I looked up at the stars for a moment. My curiosity, however, could not be stifled. I decided to stop pretending and be direct. “Were they Zealots?”

He peered at me. “Why do you ask?”

“They looked to me like Zealots,” I said.

“You can tell?” asked a voice from behind me. I turned to find that Shimon had approached to a distance of only a few paces. I had no idea how long he had been standing there. He asked in a low voice, “How about me? Do I look like a Zealot?”

I felt extremely uncomfortable. I was at a loss for something to say.

Because of the way he was turned, facing the campfires, I could perceive the features of his face. His stiff expression gradually transformed into a strange smile. Finally he spoke, answering his own question and the question I was too timid to ask. “Yes, I do.”

A chill ran up my back.

“Mariamne, listen,” he said. “This must be a secret.”

I felt faint. Yeshua’s own brothers? “Do you mean he doesn’t know?” I asked.



This caused them both to laugh.

Shimon said at last, “I meant a secret from Chouzas and the others not of the family.”

“So he does know?”

“Of course he knows,” Yehuda said. “We’re brothers.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“You need only to open your eyes,” Yehuda said. “The prophets said that the Lord’s chosen one would come one day and destroy the oppressors of his people. Do you believe that can be done with oils and hands on the forehead?”

“Whom do you think the Romans dread more?” Shimon asked, “Yochanan the Baptizer or another Yehuda the Galilean?”

Yehuda asked, “Why do you think Yeshu wants the Sons of the Storm-Wind as disciples? Why Shimon Baryona? He won’t admit it, but Yeshu is building an army.”

I had heard Shimon called that before, but I assumed that it meant bar Jonah, son of Jonah. Was he really one of the baryonim—another name for the Zealots? Then I latched onto a few of Yehuda’s words. “He won’t admit it?”

“He can’t,” Shimon replied.

“Not until we’re ready,” Yehuda said. “If Pilatos learned of us now, he would send out his butchers. But the time will come. In the Psalms of Solomon it says that the chosen one will destroy the unrighteous rulers, purge Jerusalem from gentiles, smash the arrogance of sinners, and shatter their substance with an iron rod. Does that sound—”

At that moment Maria interrupted us by calling to Yehuda and Shimon to help her with something. Reluctantly, they started toward her. Shimon gripped my forearm before he left, “Remember, a secret.”

It was very late when I finally fell asleep that night. Partly it was the noise from the other pilgrims gathered near, the talking and the snoring and the wailing children. Mostly, though, it was because I kept thinking of the tales I had heard about Yehuda the Galilean and his defiant stand. No human being, he said—especially no heathen—could be tolerated as ruler over Israel. The people had made a pact with the Lord to accept him as their sovereign and they must refuse to give any of the resources of his holy land as tribute to foreign rulers. Those who were zealous for the Lord knew their sacred duty. They must return the land to its rightful ruler.

The more I wondered about the aims of this group who followed Yeshua, the more I thought that perhaps Rivka had been wiser than I knew.



91    you’ll need to donate what you have to the common good.” — Luke 14:33. Acts 2:44-45 makes the same point, and it seems beyond argument that the disciples’ communalist lifestyle after the crucifixion would have originated during their days with Jesus. The sharing of all possessions was a hallmark of the Essene sect. (See Josephus, The Jewish War, 2.8.3.)

93    Shimon’s wife passed near on the way outside to begin preparing food. — Crossan & Reed, Excavating Jesus, 126. An illustration based on the excavation of the purported “House of St. Peter” in Capernaum shows living quarters surrounding a courtyard where common activities such as meals took place.

93    Yeshua had attracted a new follower named Mattiya, — Matthew 9:9. Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27 call the same person Levi son of Alpheus, but this was disputed and corrected by an early church figure named Didymus the Blind. (See Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 16.) Didymus states that the Matthew also known as Levi was actually Matthias, the disciple chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot in the twelve.

93    “Follow me!” — TJS, Mark 2:14. (KJV)

94    to refer to the sons of Zebedee as the Sons of the Storm-Wind. — Mark 3:17. Trans. Hugh Schonfield, The Original New Testament, 11, note d.

94    “But this one is near enough to be my twin.” — On pages 32-36 of his book Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church, Richard Bauckham explores claims that Thomas was the same person as Jude the brother of Jesus, and that he was the biological twin of Jesus, ultimately deciding against both assertions.

95    “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” — TJS, Matthew 8:22. (KJV) Having Jesus direct this statement at Judas Thomas is my invention. (Matthew 8:21 identifies the person only as “another of his disciples.”) Also invented is Thomas’ friendship with Matthew before he joined the group.

96    His brother Yoseh, who was childlike and unworldly — Unlike James, Jude, and Simon, whose activities in the early church were later recorded, Joses remains a cipher. Named as a brother of Jesus in Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55, and the son of Mary in Mark 15:40 and Matthew 27:56, he is never mentioned again. Yet his purported ossuary found in the Talpiot tomb in south Jerusalem suggests that he survived into the decades following the crucifixion. There is a reasonable argument that the James, Judas (AKA Thaddeus and Lebbaeus), and Simon mentioned in the apostle lists were the brothers of Jesus—but if so, why not Joses? My supposition is that something precluded him from being an apostle and taking part in the early missionary work, perhaps mental impairment.

96    the tower for which the town is namedMagdala is the Aramaic word for “tower.” A 20-foot-high stone tower—apparently for storage of spring water from an adjacent mountain—is still extant among the ruins of the town.

97    the Decapolis — A loose confederation of ten primarily Greek-speaking towns, a portion of which extended west of the Jordan River to separate Galilee and Judea. Decapolis is Greek for “ten towns.”

102    His mother Elisheba was a relative of hers. — Luke 1:36.

102    Maria had gone to live with Elisheba, — Luke 1:40.

102    “Yochanan ben Zecharyah is immersing for the remission of sins. — Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 11. Dr. Ehrman records a fragment from the lost Gospel of the Nazareans.

104    Yeshua’s own brothers? — Textual evidence exists that both Simon and Judas were Zealots. In Mark 3:18, the apostle Simon is identified as “Simon the Cananaean.” Mark does not translate into Greek the Aramaic word for “Zealot” but simply offers a transliteration—thus disguising the fact that Simon had been a member of the armed resistance against the Romans. (See S. G. F. Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots, 243-4.) Mark does this even though he translates other terms for his readers (3:17, 5:41, 7:34, 15:22, 15:34). Matthew, at Matthew 10:3, simply copied Mark. Luke, writing twenty or more years after the Jewish War, when the topic was not so provocative, does translate the word by calling him “Simon Zelotes” in Luke 6:15 and “Simon the Zealot” in Acts 1:13. The evidence for Judas is more obscure. In a second-century text called the “Epistle of the Apostles” (See Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 74), Judas was identified as “Judas the Zealot.”

105    “Why Shimon Baryona? — Carmichael, The Death of Jesus, 156-158 and Grant, Jesus, 132-133. Peter’s name at Matthew 16:17, John 1:42 and John 21:15 is translated as Simon son of Jonah or Simon son of John. However, during this period baryona could also have referred to a member of the baryonim, and thus could have been a double-entendre. The term, derived from an Aramaic word meaning open country, broadly signified those who lived outside the cities, outside the laws. While the group over time came to be known pejoratively as “daggermen,” at first there was a positive connotation. To live in cities and towns meant to live under the control of idol-worshipers. To be associated with the open country suggested living in a state of greater purity in the eyes of the Lord of Israel.

105    In the Psalms of Solomon it says that the chosen one — Ehrman, Jesus, Interrupted, 231. A paraphrase of lines from the extracanonical Psalms of Solomon, written a few decades before the birth of Jesus.

105     No human being, he said—especially no heathen — Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots, 326.




8                   I meet Yochanan the Baptizer.


The next morning we continued toward Jericho. The distance being too great to walk in one day, we would have to spend one night in the wilderness. Yehuda and Shimon appeared to want to avoid me. Nor was I interested in walking with them. I felt a need to speak with Yeshua.

Knowing that the Baptizer was kin to Maria, I talked with her several times that day about him. Though she lived in Galilee and the family of Elisheba in Judea, they exchanged news when they gathered in Jerusalem for the feasts. Maria told me that, like Yeshua, Yochanan felt touched by the Lord even as a child. He was descended, through his mother, from the very first high priest of the Israelites, Aaron. His father Zecharyah being a priest of the Temple, Yochanan was taught to read the Law and the prophets.

Like others who studied the prophets, he knew that this age was near to its end. Daniel, especially, had foreseen this. According to his prophecy, from the time of the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian destruction to the final days, seventy weeks of years would pass. By that he meant 490 years. One week of years amounted to seven years, and seventy times seven amounted to 490. In bygone days, interpreters of scripture thought Daniel referred to the decree of Cyrus that Jews could rebuild their city. The end of that period had long since passed—as long ago as the time of Pompeius and Julius Caesar. However, wise men who continued to labor over the prophecy had noticed that if the count started from Ezra’s return from Babylon to begin the holy city’s restoration, the period would end in our own time. In fact, that spring when I joined Yeshua’s group, the wise reckoned that we were living in the very last year.

Yochanan knew the words of Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Those words, almost two centuries before, had caused the Essenes to go out and establish communities in the wilderness. Believing that the Temple priesthood was corrupt and unworthy, and that they were conducting the holy rites according to a calendar that was in error, the Essenes had chosen to live apart and purify themselves for the approaching end times.

Certain that the age was coming to an end, Yochanan one day was listening to someone read from the book of Malachi. The Lord said through his prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me.” When Yochanan heard these words, something stirred within him. He felt the Lord speaking to him personally, commanding him to be that messenger.

So he left Qumran and went out into the wilderness and began his mission. To mark himself as an heir to Elijah and Elisha, Yochanan wore a mantle of camel’s hair and tied a broad leather belt around his waist. He became, as the prophet Isaiah had said, the voice crying out, warning of the coming revelation of the Lord’s glory. He returned to the hills of his childhood and introduced the Essene custom of ritualized bathing, cleansing a person outwardly to symbolize his commitment to purity in the eyes of the Lord. Anyone who wanted to rededicate himself was purified and welcomed into the community of the Lord’s kingdom, which would soon be established on earth.

As he kept dwelling on the words of Isaiah, Yochanan perceived in them a clue. The Lord said he would return to his land through the wilderness, across the desert. That is, he intended to return from across the Jordan River—the same way he had sent the Israelites into the Promised Land. Yochanan had a vision: Jews who wanted to repent and help purify the nation should go back to the wilderness and reenter ahead of the Lord. They could bathe in the flowing water of the Jordan to signify the washing away of their sins and the renewal of their commitment. Yochanan realized that this vision was telling him to go to the Jordan River to teach men this new way to prepare for the new age.

So he went. In time his fame grew and great numbers of people came out to him. Because of the way he lived and dressed people began to see in him the fulfillment of the last verses of Malachi—that is to say, the final words of the last of the prophets of the old days. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”

Those he immersed understood this prophecy to refer to Yochanan. They began to call him the new Elijah. After all, he had chosen as the site for his mission the very place the Lord took Elijah up to heaven in a chariot of fire.

Yochanan himself only claimed that his role was to prepare the way. He admitted that he could not perform wonders the way Elijah could. He could not control rain, multiply the meal and oil of a poor woman, or raise a child from the dead. He expected that the person who could do wonders like those would come after the way had been prepared.

Maria had been telling me this story as we walked, but whenever she needed to know the wording of the scriptures she would call on Yehuda to tell me. Now he added, on his own, “The passage of Malachi my mother mentioned, about the messenger preparing the way, goes on to say, ‘…and they will suddenly come to his temple, the Lord whom you seek and the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire.’ He says ‘they.’ Zecharyah was also clear: there are to be two messiahs—a man who will build the temple of the Lord and sit on the throne, and a priest who will stand beside him. According to Jeremiah, the priest will be of the line of Aaron and the king the line of David.”

We walked along silently for a time, the question Yehuda had prompted building within me, filling my breast with excitement. Maria, of all people, was the one to ask. Now, of all times, was the moment to learn her answer. I feared to be so bold, but my curiosity would not let the moment pass without hearing her response. She had said that Yochanan was descended from Aaron through his mother. Finally I could no longer hold back. “May I ask?” I said, “Is Yeshua descended from David?”

Maria answered simply, “Yes.”

We walked southward all of that day along the eastern side of the Jordan River, down through Perea, in order to avoid the land of the Samaritans. I said little after Maria’s comment. I had much to think about.

Late in the afternoon we reached the place where travelers were accustomed to stop for the evening. Though the terrain was rocky, there was a spring nearby, and a number of ground-level caves in a small bluff offered shelter against the perils of the night. By continuing along the Jordan Valley road the next morning, we could reach Jericho by end of day.

We were sitting around the fire finishing our evening meal when Shalom and Maryam began speaking wistfully of Nazareth and of growing up there. Before long they were reminding Maria of the times Zealot bands had come to the area and the family had taken shelter in the hills. That led to some recollections by Maria of the uprising under Yehuda the Galilean, when she and Yosef had brought back the new-born Yeshua to Nazareth in the midst of a storm of violence. She named a few neighbors whose relatives had been killed or maimed fighting under Yehuda. Chouzas made some comment about the legendary bravery of the Zealots—their reputation for sneering at torture inflicted to make them honor Caesar as God. He added that the philosophy had such appeal to young men that he hoped he could keep his own two full-grown sons from being seduced by it. Throughout the conversation, I noticed both Yehuda and Shimon glancing at me. I said nothing.

The following afternoon we neared Jericho. The road turned east toward the ancient city. By crossing the Jordan River, we would leave Perea and enter Judea and we could be inside the city’s famous walls in less than two hours.

Before we crossed the river, however, near that Bethany known as Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan, we took a pathway southward. There we found, near the eastern bank of the river, the camp of Yochanan the Baptizer.

Yehuda and Shimon approached one of his disciples and told him that we were kinsmen who would like to see him. In a moment Yochanan ben Zecharyah appeared at the entrance to his tent. For me, seeing him was like seeing one of the ancient prophets brought back to life. His visage surprised me in that I expected an old man with gray hair and beard, but then I recalled that he was not much older than Yeshua.

Black rather than gray, his hair and beard cascaded wildly over his chest and back, almost reaching to his wide leather belt. His deep-set eyes and hooked nose gave him the appearance of an eagle, gazing intently at whatever caught his attention. He held no staff in his hand but strode toward us with vigor, filled with the vitality of manhood. I understood why so many people considered him a great man, a harbinger of God.

He greeted Maria and her sons, then the rest of us. Chouzas observed him with keen eyes, speaking friendly words while considering him the way you would a tamed lion roaming around your camp. Yehuda and Shimon gazed at him the way a pagan might at his idol. I found myself so intimidated by his visage and his fame that I found it difficult to speak.

We did not have much time to spend there, needing to reach Jericho before dark. Most of the conversation consisted of pleasantries. He offered us refreshments—he was fasting that day—and commented on the growth of Maria’s children, and they exchanged news of the two families.

I felt my chance to speak with one of the great men of our time slipping away. In spite of my timidity, I wanted to say something to him. Finally, when there was a pause in the conversation, I found the courage to speak.

“Will you be coming up to Jerusalem soon?” I asked.

I felt, rather than saw, tenseness among the members of my group. I instantly knew that I had made some sort of error. Those eagle eyes fixed on me. “Not unless an earthquake splits Mount Moriah,” he said. “The Temple is polluted.”

To me this was beyond understanding, even though I had heard what Maria and Yehuda had to say about Essene beliefs. Without thinking I asked, “How can the Lord’s Temple be polluted?”

The great man considered me for a moment, then allowed for my youth and that I was a simple woman from Galilee. “The high priest is chosen by Rome. How can the Lord accept sacrifices from a man who is under the heel of a Gentile and not a true Zadok?”                                 

Shimon joined in, “It sickens me to think of Kayafa entering the holy of holies on behalf of the people!”

“No,” Yochanan said to me, “you go on up to the Temple for Passover. I’ll wait for the coming of the kingdom.”

Afraid to embarrass myself further, I said nothing more. Soon afterward, we left.

The sun was low in the sky when we reached Jericho, that ancient city, the first conquered by Yehoshua son of Nun when the Lord sent him into Canaan more than a thousand years ago.

Jericho sits like a jewel amid the harsh countryside east of Jerusalem. Around it are fine orchards filled with cypresses and palms and all manner of fruit trees. What makes this possible is a great fountain by the old city. In the distant past the fountain flowed with water of a sickly nature. Then the prophet Elisha came. Grateful for the kind treatment he received from the people of Jericho, he called down the Lord’s favor on the fountain. Ever since, it has produced the sweet waters that have caused the region to flourish.

Except for Tiberias I had never seen so many people gathered in one place. I had not yet been to Jerusalem. I expected to see Romans, since we were now in Judea. Instead I saw many other Gentiles—Arabs from Nabatea, Idumeans, and of course Greeks. I even saw a few Samaritan traders.

There was a large market, and in the short time remaining before sunset I visited it with Shalom and Maryam. I bargained for some dates and figs, and when I bit into them the flavor was the sweetest I had ever tasted. Because we were all of the age for marriage—Shalom being my age of almost twenty and Maryam four years younger—we attracted the gaze of many young men.

It disappointed me that I would not see the Baptizer again. In the morning we would depart in the other direction, westward, up the road to Jerusalem. I overheard two men talking about him. They were both common people, raggedly dressed, likely farmers. They talked as though they had seen him, so I asked if they had been to his camp.

“Yes,” said the taller man of the two.

“You both went to be immersed in the Jordan?” I asked.

They nodded.

“Were many people there?”

“A great crowd!” said the taller man. “His disciples say the numbers have been mounting in recent weeks, and they expect many thousands this summer.”

“It’s a Sabbatical Year,” said the shorter man. “People have freedom to come.”

I understood immediately. The Law required that every seventh year the land lie fallow. Nothing could be harvested except what grew naturally. Those who farmed had unusual freedom during that year to move about. That meant that all through the summer the common people would be able to come to see and hear him.

“What does he teach?” I asked.

“That the end is almost here,” said the tall man. “We’re in the final days. Everyone needs to be ready.”

“Who knows?” said the short man. “It could be this very night.”

“He tells everyone to pray that the kingdom will come soon,” said the tall man, “and he wants us to live like brothers and forgive those who sin against us. Why hold grudges when the end is almost here? If we forgive, the Lord will be inclined to do the same for us.”

“He says those who are immersed become the advance guard in the Lord’s army. Every good work helps to purify the nation.”

The tall man added, “Yochanan also says that the Lord will surely punish Herodes for marrying his brother’s wife.”

“I’m traveling with someone from Herodes’ court,” I said.

“Take care that you don’t get drawn into his circle,” the man said. “You don’t want to be counted with the sinful king when the Lord arrives.”

Until that moment I had not considered that Chouzas might have other reasons for accompanying us to Jerusalem.

I noticed Shalom beckoning me. She and Maryam were ready to return to our group. I excused myself from the men and rejoined them.

That night, as I tried to fall asleep, I kept thinking of what the men had said. Why, why had I not asked to be immersed while I was with him? Twice I awoke, startled, believing that I had heard the clamor of an approaching storm from the east. There was nothing at all, not even a wind, just the sounds of a sleeping city beneath the glittering stars.          



109    He was descended, through his mother, from the very first high priest — Luke 1:5.

109    His father Zecharyah being a priest — Ibid.

110    we were living in the very last year. — Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, 143-144, citing Daniel 9.

110    “Prepare the way of the Lord, — Isaiah 40:3. (KJV)

110    Those words, almost two centuries before, had caused the Essenes — Grant, Jesus, 17-18. According to Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, 125, the very word Isaiah used for “desert”—aravah—is used to this day to refer to the area beside the Dead Sea where Qumran is located.

110    Believing that the Temple priesthood was corrupt — Grant, Jesus, 17-18.

110    “Behold, I send my messenger, — Malachi 3:1. (Translation taken from the Dead Sea Scrolls version of Malachi.) See Abegg Jr., et al, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, 477.

110    To mark himself as an heir to Elijah and Elisha, — 2 Kings 1:8 and 2:13-15.

110    the voice crying out, — Isaiah 40:3.

111    “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet — Malachi 4:5-6. (KJV)

111    the very place the Lord took Elijah up to heaven — 2 Kings 2:5-11.

111    He could not control rain, (Etc.) — 1 Kings 17.

112    ‘…and they will suddenly come to his temple, — Malachi 3:1-2. (Translation, Abegg Jr., et al, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, 477.)

112    there are to be two messiahs — Zechariah 6:12-13.

112    According to Jeremiah — Jeremiah 33:14. This was also an article of faith for the Essenes. See Charter of a Jewish Sectarian Association (1QS) 9:11, from Wise, et al, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 131: “…doing so until there come the Prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.”

112    “Is Yeshua descended from David?” …  “Yes.” — Spong, Jesus for the Non-Religious, 27. Spong cites Romans 1:3, written by Paul in the mid- to late fifties of the first century. This assertion must have come from common knowledge among the followers of Jesus, including surviving members of his family, and precedes by a quarter-century the much-questioned genealogies published in Matthew and Luke.

112    the land of the Samaritans. — Samaria was a region bounded by Galilee in the north, Judea in the south and Perea in the east. Its inhabitants were ethnically Jewish but socially hostile to Judeans and Galileans.

112    we reached the place where travelers were accustomed to stop — Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, 190-191.

113    legendary bravery of the Zealots — Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots, 57.

115    Jericho, that ancient city, the first conquered (And following) — Josephus, The Jewish War, 4.8.3.

117    “It’s a Sabbatical Year,” — Schonfield, The Jesus Party, 48. The Sabbatical Year extended from September 33 to September 34.

117    “He tells everyone to pray that the kingdom will come soon, — Luke 11:2-4.




9                   Passover in Jerusalem.


We walked uphill all of the following day along a dusty road, part of a constant flow of pilgrims making their way up to holy Jerusalem. Maria and Shalom and the others kept telling me stories of the city. I alone of our group had never been there, and the more they talked the greater my anticipation. They tried to describe to me how majestic the Temple was and all I could imagine was some finer version of Herodes’ palace in Tiberias, an impressive building which dominated the mountainside above the city, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Then finally we crossed the ridge of the Mount of Olives and I saw for myself.

On the opposite side of a deep valley the Temple grounds appeared like some heaven-sent vision, a sight beyond my ability to imagine. It stole my breath. Amid the surrounding natural hills stood one strange manmade hill with vertical cliffs instead of slopes and sharp corners in place of rounded bluffs. The top of this strange hill was a plateau with the appearance of a wide table. A lofty wall protected the plateau, but being high up on the Mount of Olives I could see over this into the courtyards within. Throngs of people were in motion. Each person was a distant speck, but as groups they shifted to and fro like bits of wood borne on eddies of water. The Temple stood near the center of the plateau, encompassed by a lesser wall. Its magnificent white marble sides towered into the sky and were lavished with gold that gleamed in the light of the afternoon sun.

I knew we would not have time to visit the city until the next day—we still had to find Yeshua’s group and prepare for the evening—but I felt its lure as though it came from some magical tale of Solomon.

Yehuda and Shimon knew about where Yeshua’s camp should be. At every feast the family tried to stay in the same area, partway up the slope of the Mount of Olives and facing the Temple on Mount Moriah. The two brothers struck off through stands of olive trees, passing between the tents of pilgrims who had arrived before us, and in less than half an hour Shimon came back for us.

When we arrived Yehuda was talking with Andreas, and with Yukhanan son of Zebedee, who were guarding the belongings of those in Yeshua’s group. I quickly spread out a place for myself where I could gaze westward and sat staring at the Temple, and beyond it the buildings of Jerusalem. The palaces and mansions of the wealthy lay on the western side, in the Upper City, and the poorer homes to the south, in the Lower City and the City of David. I watched while the sun sank and turned red, unable to look away.

Yeshua arrived with the others just as the sun touched the horizon. He greeted and hugged his mother and sisters. Then he came and hugged me before doing the same with Yoanna and Sousanna. He seemed pleased to see me.

The hillside was filled with camps of other pilgrims. As it began to turn dark I saw two men making their way up the hill in our direction, winding through the other groups. From their dress I assumed that they were Pharisees. Andreas knew and greeted the younger one. He was Yochanan, whom I shall call by his Greek name, Ioannes, because in later years he was more widely known by that name.

Like Andreas, Ioannes had been a disciple of the Baptizer when they discovered Yeshua after his immersion in the Jordan River. Yeshua felt special affection for the young priest. (It was Ioannes who would sit at his right hand during the final meal of the Twelve together.) Yeshua hugged him and gave him a kiss at the side of the mouth. Ioannes introduced the older man with him as Nikodemos. It appeared that Ioannes had taken Nikodemos to observe Yeshua teaching in the courtyards of the Temple, and he must have been impressed. Yeshua offered them some of our evening meal and each accepted a little salted fish and unleavened bread.

After a while they began to speak of important things. Nikodemos said in a voice I had to strain to hear—he seemed not to want other groups nearby to overhear him—“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God. How soon can we expect the kingdom?”

Yeshua answered, “It is already here.”

Nikodemos looked around, even glanced across the valley at the Temple, confused. “I do not understand.”

“Very truly, I tell you,” Yeshua said, “no one can see the kingdom of the Lord without being born anew.”

Nikodemos mused, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

“No one can enter the kingdom of God,” Yeshua said, “without being born of water and spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of the spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, You must be born anew. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.”

“How can these things be?” Nikodemos asked.

“Are you teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”

This was the first of many discussions I heard Yeshua engage in with Pharisees, some friendly and well-intentioned and some contrived to entrap him. Nikodemos seemed genuinely interested in the truth, only for him it proved slippery to grasp because of the thoroughness of his education. Yeshua and he went on to discuss philosophy. How the Sadducees deny fate and the survival of the soul, and say men are free to choose good or evil acts and reap the rewards they deserve. How the Pharisees believe the souls of bad men face eternal punishment, but the souls of good men can return to other bodies. How the Essenes believe fate is fixed, and that the soul is immortal and remains caged in our bodies while we live, so that we go about our lives in bondage.

I listened, but I did not listen. I found myself dwelling on Yeshua’s statement that no one could see the kingdom of the Lord without being born again—born of water and spirit. Even though I thought I understood his point, I had never been immersed. When the kingdom came, I would not be ready. I could not interrupt Yeshua while his guests were there, but I was consumed with desire to know my fate. The end was fast approaching—might happen any day—and I was not prepared. Could I return to the Jordan and get immersed by Yochanan?

Finally I saw Nikodemos and Ioannes light torches from the fire and start to descend the hill. Yeshua spoke for awhile after that with his mother. As soon as they finished speaking, I immediately went up to him.



“May I ask a question?”

“Of course.”

“You spoke with the Pharisees about being born again.”


“How can I be born again?”

He turned completely toward me, placed his hands on my arms at my shoulders, and said, “I’ve been thinking about you.” Now he had been traveling one day ahead of our group through the wilderness with his disciples, and his first day in Jerusalem had been spent teaching the crowds in the Temple courtyard. Could he really have had me in his thoughts while preoccupied with so many things? The answer lay in his eyes. When I saw that he truly had been thinking of me, I had the same feeling that I had when his hand stroked mine that night in Kapharnahum.

“I want to baptize you myself,” he said.

He said it tenderly, which pleased me. “Where?” I asked, thinking that he meant some nearby spring.

“After we celebrate the Passover meal,” he went on, “we’re going into the wilderness west of here to take part in Yochanan’s mission.”

“Isn’t he east of here?” I asked.

“We’re working toward the same goal, he in Perea and I in Judea.”

“Can’t it be sooner?”


“I’m concerned.”

“About what?”

“The end may come, and I won’t be ready.”

He surprised me by smiling. “Mariamne, listen to what I say. You don’t need to be concerned about that while you are with me.”       

Yeshua’s brother Yacob approached to ask him some question about the coming day in the city. Unlike his brothers Yehuda and Shimon, who so far appeared to me as brash and insistent, Yacob presented himself more the way Yeshua did—self-controlled and unfailingly considerate. He had taken the Nazirite vows in his youth, consecrating himself to the Lord. He never touched wine, or even grapes or raisins, and he permitted his hair to grow long and free. Only once each year, in a brief ceremony, would he allow a razor to his head and the hair removed to be offered as a sacrifice at the Temple.

I had intended to ask Yeshua about his relation with the Zealots, but Yacob’s piety commanded respect and I felt that I should allow him to speak with his brother.

Comforted by what Yeshua had said, I returned to the fire. After exchanging a few words with Sousanna and Yoanna about the coming day in Jerusalem, I lay down to sleep.

How can I describe my awakening the next morning? After four days of travel I was so exhausted that I slept through first light; and from changing location every day I had lost the sense of where I was while sleeping. When I opened my eyes I happened to be facing Mount Moriah. The air was fresh and calm and laden with moisture. The morning sun, which had climbed above the Mount of Olives behind me, cast on the Temple’s white marble walls and gold embellishments that softened light we all find so beautiful. God’s residence stood out shining and serene above the buildings of Jerusalem, the nearby hills, and the far peaks. Never in my life had I experienced a sight of such majesty.

The view started to blur. My eyes were filling with tears.

Everyone else was almost ready to start down the hill. I had only a piece of bread to break my fast and hurried to prepare.

Yeshua chose his brothers Shimon and Yehuda to stay behind to protect the belongings and the animals. We made our way down into the Kidron Valley and followed the trail south. The sheer face of the Temple wall towered on our right. Seeing the mountainous mass of smooth limestone rising toward the sky and stretching from one end of the little valley to the other, I could not imagine how much brutal toil had been required to construct it. Herodes the Great must have been as mighty in his own way as the Pharaohs of Egypt.

On the eastern side of the valley, our left, we passed the old graveyard. Among the impressive monuments there was the tomb of Zecharyah, cut into the limestone. It seemed fitting and respectful that the great prophet of God should be interred on the slope of the Mount of Olives and in the shadow of the Temple.

On our right, connecting with the southeast corner of the Temple, ran the stone wall that encircled all of Jerusalem. Behind that wall from us lay the hill called the Ophel—the southern spur of the mountain on which the Temple had been built. We kept walking southward beside the wall until we came to the gate near the Pool of Siloam. There we turned west to enter the city. We now proceeded north along the main street of Jerusalem, which passed through the valley of the cheese-makers, with the Ophel on our right. Since David’s palace had once occupied the site, the Ophel was known as the City of David. But none of the glory of the Golden Age remained. Now it was home to some of the poorest residents of Jerusalem.

On the opposite side of the valley of the cheese-makers, that is, the western side, stood a higher hill known as the Upper City. The farther up its slopes one walked the wealthier the people who lived there. The palace of Herodes the Great stood at the summit, next to three massive towers that soared into the sky. The tallest, it was said, was the height of thirty men standing on each other’s shoulders.   

I saw Roman legionaries in the streets, many more than I ever saw in Tiberias. The emperor gave Herodes Antipas permission to govern his own lands, so the Romans I saw in Galilee were only visiting or passing through. Judea, on the other hand, was ruled directly by Rome through its prefect, Pontios Pilatos. He allowed the high priest to direct the affairs of the Jews and maintain order through his Temple police. However, Pilatos kept troops in the Antonia Fortress on the northern edge of the Temple grounds, ready to enforce the will of Rome should the need arise. He brought still more troops when he came up to Jerusalem from Caesarea for certain feasts. Where so many people gathered, there was an increased chance of trouble.

We purified ourselves in a mikvah before entering the holy grounds. Yeshua led us up into the Temple courtyard through the triple gate—the easternmost of the Hulda Gates. At the top of the echoing staircase, when we came out into the open air, we divided. Yacob and Yukhanan son of Zebedee were sent to purchase a lamb, as the Law required a male, one year of age and without blemish. The rest of us moved through the Passover crowds across the vast courtyard toward the Temple. The area we crossed was known as the Court of the Gentiles. Any visitor from any land could gather in this area unmolested. However, only Jews were permitted in the section immediately surrounding the Temple, a space defined by a low stone wall. It stood at about eye level. On the wall were signs in Greek and Latin warning Gentiles not to enter or the penalty would be certain death.

The Temple faced the east and we approached it from that direction, passing inside the stone wall and climbing fourteen steps to the first court—the Court of Women. I stayed there with Maria and the other women while Yeshua and his disciples mounted another flight of fifteen steps to the Court of Israel. Past that narrow court—perhaps twenty paces beyond—was the Court of Priests, with the great altar where priests offered burnt sacrifices to the Lord. Beyond the altar and at the top of twelve more steps stood the towering entryway to the Holy Place—the Lord’s house. Through a broad opening I could see two Babylonian tapestries, with the heavens depicted in beautiful embroidery of blue, white, scarlet, and purple. Past them, some thirty steps beyond, behind another curtain, was the Holy of Holies, the Lord’s residence on earth. Only the high priest, properly attired and purified, was permitted to enter that sacred space, and only on the Day of Atonement.

Standing at the very core of my faith, I was overcome. This was the place where a thousand years ago King Solomon had built the first Temple—the one destroyed by the Babylonians—and a thousand years before that Abraham had prepared to sacrifice his son to the Lord. All the others in the group had seen this before, but I had never even traveled out of Galilee. To me it made little difference that Yochanan considered the Temple to be polluted. To me I was standing on holy ground, a place of terrifying power. From the center of the Court of Women I could spy the Babylonian tapestry and imagine the second, finely wrought curtain before the Holy of Holies—the only veils separating the Lord from the eyes of his people. According to Torah, no one could look upon him and live. Only Moshe had done so, and then only in passing. That one brief glance turned Moshe’s hair to the color of snow, and the people awaiting him at the foot of the mountain knew that something awe-inspiring had happened to him.

I looked for Yeshua and caught sight of him standing next to the Court of Priests, his head bowed, as near as he could approach the Holy of Holies. He did not move.

The others remained, but it was too much for me. I went back through the entrance and waited for them in the Court of Gentiles. To keep from looking toward the sanctuary, which made me tremble, I gazed at the other great structures around the Temple.

At the northwest corner of the vast plateau of the Temple loomed the Antonia fortress. Herodes the Great had built it in the early years of his reign and named it in honor of Marcus Antoninus, the friend in Rome whose support had steered the kingship to Herodes. The high walls of the fortress towered above the Court of Gentiles, and from its ramparts Roman soldiers kept watch on every move.

Across the southern end of the Temple plateau was a covered area of stupendous scale. Four rows of marble columns ran from the eastern wall to the western wall. Each row was composed of forty columns, each column as tall as six men standing upon each other’s shoulders and so immense that to reach around it would require three men with arms stretched fingertip to fingertip. These four rows of columns divided the space into three broad walkways running side by side east to west. The roof above the center walkway, supported by a second tier of columns, soared to an even higher level. The topmost part of this center roof reached a height of perhaps twenty men standing upon each other’s shoulders. The stairway we had climbed to reach the Court of the Gentiles ascended beneath the floor of this vast meeting place, which I learned was called the Royal Portico. Here the business of the Temple was conducted and here the Sanhedrin met.

Two rows of stone columns like those of the Royal Portico continued around the other three sides of the Temple grounds, creating a covered walkway the entire distance. Along the eastern wall this walkway was known as Solomon’s Portico. Above its roof, across the Kidron Valley, I could see the slope of the Mount of Olives where we had encamped. Hundreds of people moved among the trees and tents. Because of my fine eyesight, I thought I might be able to spy Yehuda and Shimon if I were patient. But I had no sooner started to look than I heard a voice from behind, “Mariamne.”

Yacob and Yukhanan approached, bearing a flawless lamb suspended on a pole between them. “Is Yeshu out here?” Yacob asked.

“No, he is still praying,” I said.

I reentered the holy place with them as they searched through the crowd to find Yeshua. When we found him he inspected the lamb. Afterward he led us out to Solomon’s Portico.

I recalled Maria describing how Yosef had found him there speaking with the priests when Yeshua was twelve years old, after the family had started back to Galilee without him. On many occasions since he had returned to discuss the Law and prophets.                                               

Our group quickly expanded in size far beyond the dozen or so who had come to the Temple with him. Yeshua was approached by some acquaintances from years past, then Nikodemos and Ioannes the priest noticed him and came to join them. Soon their discussions drew others to listen to them, including priests of the Temple. Perhaps a dozen such gatherings were taking place along the long portico, but in all of the others the poor and the commonly dressed were visible around the fringes, straining to hear what wisdom the the well-dressed and well-educated were imparting. In our group, the well-dressed and well-educated were gathered around and listening intently to a poor and commonly dressed Galilean.

Solomon’s Portico served not only as a place for religious discussion and debate but for sharing news. A woman excused herself for bumping into me and soon I was chatting with her. She had a small child braced on her hip and I thought I recalled seeing her somewhere along the road to Jerusalem, but her accent seemed strange to my ear.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Julias,” she said, the city in Gaulanitis many people still knew as Bethsaida. Philippos the tetrarch had ordered new construction there and raised the town to the status of city, renaming it Julias in honor of the daughter of Emperor Augustus.

“I’m from Magdala.”

“Have you heard yet about Philippos?” the woman asked.

“Herodes’ brother?”

“Yes. He departed this life a few days ago.”


“Yes, during a visit to Julias.”

I was not only shocked but genuinely saddened. Of all the sons of Herodes the Great, Philippos seemed the fairest in his treatment of his subjects. “They say he was a very good ruler,” I said. I wanted to add, “compared with his brother Antipas,” but I knew Chouzas and Yoanna were standing nearby.

“A very fair man,” she said, “very just. He always took along his judgment seat when he traveled around his lands. Whenever someone approached him about a dispute or crime, he would have the seat set down right there and listen to all sides and pass judgment.”

“He ruled for so long,” I said. I could not remember when he was not tetrarch of Gaulanitis, Batanea and Trachonitis.                         

“Thirty-seven years,” she said. “He had no sons, so everyone is wondering what will happen to his lands now—and who will rule over us.”

“What about his wife?” I asked. “What will she do?” Philippos had married Shalom, the daughter of Herodias. 

“No one knows. She’s still young. After a period of mourning, she could marry again.”

“Maybe she will go to live with her mother in Herodes’ court,” I said.

Others around us who had overheard our conversation expressed distaste at the thought of being the daughter of such a woman. They began to make comments about the sinfulness of Herodes and Herodias. Such a marriage might be acceptable in Rome, but under the Law written down in Leviticus a Jew could not marry the wife of his living brother. The relationship was considered incestuous. Some wondered aloud why the Lord had not already punished Herodes. Others considered it an outrage that he and Herodias had come to holy Jerusalem for Passover. One woman said she had seen him that very morning outside his palace, and pointed to the west—toward a large building in the Upper City, where the wealthy people had their homes.

I noticed Chouzas and Yoanna moving away to another part of the courtyard.

Then I overheard grumbles about the coming census year, which would begin in late summer. Every fourteen years the Romans commanded that all inhabitants of Syria be counted for the purpose of calculating the tribute that must be paid. The province of Syria included Judea, Samaria, Idumea and neighboring lands. It was during an earlier census year that Yeshua had been born and Yehuda the Galilean had led the rebellion that inspired the Zealots. As I have said, the Law of Moshe forbids Jews to be numbered, and to pay the tribute meant openly acknowledging a ruler other than the Lord.

I saw for myself that day what I had heard from the others. Judeans did not think of Galileans as their fellows. Many did not even think of us as their equals. When we spoke, they seemed to find it difficult to understand us—all of us except Yeshua, who had studied the scriptures in Qumran, where they spoke Hebrew. They would often ask us to repeat what we had just said, even though we said it quite clearly.

I had the feeling sometimes that they did understand but preferred to mock us because they found our speech humorous among themselves. This I found astonishing. We were all standing in the Lord’s presence. How could they be so rude to fellow Jews when the Lord himself was only steps away?

Yeshua would later tell me of his belief that cities themselves were to blame. People of the country grew hard physically. People of the city grew hard in their hearts. People of the country had to depend on each other and saw others as fellow creations. People of the city depended on their income and saw others as being either above them or beneath. Because of the hardening of their hearts, many grew callous to the Lord’s gaze. As he went about his mission, Yeshua stayed away from cities and preached his message in the country, to the people with ears to hear.

In the afternoon, as the time neared for the sacrifice, we left Solomon’s Portico and returned to the Temple enclosure. Yeshua chose Shimon Baryona to accompany him into the sacrificial court and they made it through the gate in time to be part of the first of the three groups. The priests closed the gate behind the group so that the rest of the crowd could not witness the rite, but Shimon later told me what had happened inside.

While the Levites stood on a platform and recited the Hallel from the Psalms, accompanied by instruments of brass, those who had come to carry out the sacrifice tethered the lambs to poles by their hind legs so they hung head-down. Shimon prepared ours and then waited with his knife at the ready until the priest came around to him. Any person might kill the animal, but only a properly sanctified priest could receive the blood.

The poor beasts feared what was about to happen—they could hear the bleating of the ones whose turn had come, and smell the carnage. Our lamb twisted and jerked, but was unable to free himself from the tether. Shimon steadied the writhing animal to prevent him breaking any bones, which would have made him unfit for sacrifice.

When the priest came, Shimon grabbed the muzzle in order to stretch out the innocent neck for the blade. Then came the quick slash and the sudden red torrent pouring into the golden cup held by the priest. What missed the cup splashed onto the stone pavement, mingling with that of hundreds of other animals in the red stream that coursed down the sluices.

The priest handed the cup to another priest, who began to pass it along a row of priests that led to the altar. The last in line sprinkled it onto the fire, dedicating it to God. The carcass was then hung upon a special hook and skinned by a Levite. He cut open the abdomen and removed the fatty portions, which were salted, placed in a vessel and taken by a priest to the altar for offering to God. The remaining entrails were also taken out and cleansed.

Yeshua received back the sacrificed animal from a priest and placed it into a bag Shimon had brought for the purpose. Yeshua told him to watch over the bag until they returned to the camp to prepare the meat for the Passover meal. Then they awaited the opening of the gate so everyone could proceed to their home or camp.

As evening approached I left to return to the Mount of Olives with the other women to begin preparations for the dinner. Philippos and Nathanael came along to escort us. We prepared some food for Thomas so he could go off and eat alone that evening. According to the Law, he could not celebrate the Passover because of corpse impurity—he had touched his father’s lifeless body before we left for Jerusalem and there was not enough time for the purification ritual given in Numbers.

Just before sundown I saw Yeshua and the others coming up the slope toward us. I also noticed someone trailing behind them by perhaps fifty paces. He was a young man, neatly dressed, who walked not with confidence or purpose but with a wariness that gave the impression of being born from uncertainty. He kept his forehead dipped and his shoulders forward as some shy youths do, as though protecting himself in advance against some imagined assault.

At first I did not interpret him as following them, but merely coming in the same direction to join some other group. However, when Yeshua and the others reached the camp and sat down to rest, the youth stopped and observed from a distance. Finally he summoned his courage and approached us, walking toward Yeshua. Yeshua saw him and waited for him to speak.

“I saw you teaching,” he said.

“Yes, I saw you also,” said Yeshua.

The youth gave the appearance of being trapped—compelled to speak but fearful of rejection. “Are you accepting followers?”

Yeshua responded, “Do you feel a call to do the Lord’s work?”

“I never felt it until I heard you speak,” the youth said.

“And now?”

“Now I do.”

“We welcome anyone who wants to commit to do the Lord’s work,” Yeshua said. “What is your name?”

“Yehuda,” said the youth. He was a handsome lad, even more handsome than Nathanael. Curly black hair framed his lean face and sparse whiskers sprouted along his jaw and above his upper lip. He appeared younger than Shimon Baryona or the sons of Zebedee, more the age of Yeshua’s brother Shimon, or Nathanael.

“Yet another Yehuda?” Yeshua said. “What do we call you?”

“My father’s name is Shimon.”

“We also have Shimons,” Yeshua said.

“My father was from Kerioth,” Yehuda said.

“I’ve not heard of Kerioth.”

“A village south of Hebron.”

“Yehuda of Kerioth?” said Yeshua.

“Whatever seems right to you, rabbi,” said Yehuda.

Yeshua considered. “We need a Judean in this mob of Galileans,” he said, gesturing at the others sitting around the fire. “Are you prepared to join us now?”


“Then I invite you to share our Passover meal,” Yeshua said, embracing Yehuda with an arm across his shoulders. For a moment Yehuda appeared awkward, but only for a moment. His face erupted into a grin at the quick display of acceptance by the teacher who had so impressed him in the Temple.

We gathered for the meal after sunset, all dressed in our finest clothes. Yeshua led us through the prayers wearing, as was customary, a white robe. Although he shared the Essenes’ distaste for the sacrificial rites of the Temple, and told us so, he treasured the celebration of the Passover meal. We observed the fifteen orders—drinking the four cups of wine, asking the ritual questions, eating the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, and the paschal lamb. As the ritual continued, I found my eyes returning again and again to the Temple, whose dim outline was made visible by the flickering light of a number of torches.

That night was the most moving Passover meal I had ever experienced, and I felt as never before the long and tragic—but at the same time proud—history of the Jews.

As he led the ritual Yeshua recited the customary passages, but near the end he took time to speak about what was in his heart. He reminded us of what we all knew—that the reason our nation was subject to a pagan emperor was our unfaithfulness as a people. Whenever we had slipped away from the Lord’s covenant and into the arms of evil we had paid for our unfaithfulness by being made subject to earthly powers. Whenever we truly repented and returned to zealous observance of the Torah, we had been delivered. Yeshua said with great solemnity that it was his mission—and it was our mission, if we followed him—to restore fidelity among the people so the Lord could forgive us. Our mission was the deliverance of the nation so the Lord could establish his kingdom.

Yeshua had chosen that evening to sit so he could gaze at the Temple while he led the celebration. Now he stared at it for a long time without continuing.

From where I sat, the light of the faraway torches flickered in his eyes.



120    Passover in Jerusalem.John 2:13. This is the first of three Passovers John mentions in connection with the ministry of Jesus.

121    Yochanan, whom I shall call by his Greek name, Ioannes, — John 1:35 and 40. The unnamed disciple in these verses is commonly supposed to be the author of the fourth Gospel, John, who out of humility did not name himself in his book except obliquely as “the beloved disciple.” There is endless speculation about the identity of this John. Tradition says that he was John the son of Zebedee. However, that would make him a simple, illiterate fisherman from Galilee (see Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, 45). He was more likely a young Temple priest, well acquainted with members of the Sanhedrin. (See John 18:15.)

122    “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher — John 3:2-12. (NRSV) This conversation is probably not authentic, at least as described in John’s account. (See Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet, 95.) The flow turns on the double meaning of a word in Greek (born “again” vs. born “from above”), whereas Jesus and Nicodemus would probably have spoken in Aramaic. Nevertheless, I include much of the conversation. Nicodemus represents the Temple “insiders” who believed that Jesus must be the predicted messiah—despite what Caiaphas and their leadership told them. Also, the conversation reflects what must have been Jesus’ point of view.

123    Yeshua and he went on to discuss philosophy. — Josephus, Jewish War, 2.8.11; Antiquities, 13.5.9.

125    “After we celebrate the Passover meal,” — The Passover meal is eaten by Jews after sundown on the first day of the 8-day Passover celebration. Each dish calls attention to some facet of the escape from Egypt, e.g., unleavened bread to remind celebrants that in their flight there was not even time to bake bread.

125    He had taken the Nazirite vows in his youth, — Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, 100. Eusebius describes James as “holy from his birth” and references the Nazirite vows found in Numbers 6:1-8.

126    facing the Temple on Mount Moriah — 2 Chronicles 3:1.

126    Among the impressive monuments there was the tomb of Zecharyah. — Lee I. Levine, Jerusalem, 212, Figure 54.

127    Behind that wall from us lay the hill called the Ophel — The description of Jerusalem’s geography derives from Josephus, The Jewish War, 298-301 and 487-489 (including map).

127    The emperor gave Herodes Antipas permission — E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 27.

128    On the wall were signs in Greek and Latin — Levine, Jerusalem, 238. One sign (still in existence) read: “No foreigner is to enter within the forecourt and the balustrade around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his subsequent death.”

129    Torah — The first five books of the Bible, supposedly written by Moses.

130    Across the south end of the Temple Mount — Details are from Josephus, cited by Levine in Jerusalem, 234.

132    renaming it Julias in honor — Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times and Teaching, 165. 

132    He departed this life a few days ago. — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.4.6.

133    Philippos had married Shalom, the daughter of Herodias. — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.5.4. This was the notorious Salome who, around 18 months later, would dance for Herod and ask for the head of John the Baptizer.

133    The relationship was considered incestuous. — Florence Morgan Gillman, Herodias: At Home in That Fox’s Den, 45. Gillman cites Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21. “These laws are found in contexts that list sexual partners who were prohibited because of too close a blood relationship.”

133    Every fourteen years the Romans commanded — Schonfield, The Jesus Party, 50.

134    When we spoke, they seemed to find it difficult to understand us — Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 53-55. Galileans didn’t distinguish between the gutturals sufficiently to be understood easily, and the Judeans considered them ignorant rubes.

134    in Qumran, where they spoke Hebrew. — Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S. J., The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins, 8.

134    Yeshua stayed away from cities and preached his message in the country, — E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 12.

135    In the afternoon, as the time neared for the sacrifice, (And following) — Sacrifices began at 3 p.m. Details of the Temple sacrifice come from the PASSOVER SACRIFICE page of

135    While the Levites stood on a platform — The Levites were “a lower order of clergy” who assisted the priests in various duties around the Temple. E. P. Sanders, Historical Figure of Jesus, 41.

136    he could not celebrate the Passover because of corpse impurity — Sanders, Ibid., 230. The purification ritual specified in Numbers 19 took seven days. 

138    “A village south of Hebron.” — The little town of Kerioth is mentioned in Joshua 15:25, though no one is confident that it is the source of the word “Iscariot.” (A second Kerioth is mentioned in Jeremiah 48:24.) Another popular assertion is that Iscariot is an Aramaic rendering of the Latin word sicarii—coined to label the Zealot patriots who carried a distinctive dagger and undertook assassinations. However, the word likely didn’t come into use until 10-20 years after the death of Judas. The gospel authors—recounting events from 70 to 100 C.E.—may have applied the term to him after the fact, but he would not have been called that while alive.

138    “We need a Judean in this mob of Galileans,” — Regarding his Judean ethnicity causing Judas to be less loyal to Jesus than others in the group, see Grant, Jesus, 156.

139    our unfaithfulness as a people. — Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots, 337. “It was held by many Jewish teachers at this time that Israel’s state of servitude to the heathen was due to unfaithfulness, and that repentance of evil and zealous observance of the sacred Torah would prepare the way for God’s deliverance. The aim of Jesus, therefore, would seem to have been that of bringing his fellow- Jews to a state of moral and spiritual readiness for the near advent of the kingdom of God.”


10               The mission in Judea.


We all knew of Yeshua’s great desire to begin his mission, and that for him the mission did not truly begin until he started immersing people in Judea as Yochanan was doing at the Jordan River. We all knew that in him there was as much restlessness as serenity, as well as a strange intermingling of patience and decisiveness. Thus he surprised no one when he announced on Passover morning that he wanted to leave the following day for the hills west of Jerusalem—that he did not want to remain the full length of the festival.

I, too, had a great desire. Before I followed him beyond Jerusalem, I wanted to hear from his own lips how his mission involved the Zealots. I knew what I wanted to say and that evening I found a moment to approach him away from the fire, where others could not hear.

I made a point to speak softly. “Master?”

He smiled at me. “Call me Yeshu.”

My thoughts flew away. That was the familiar form of his name, what his mother and brothers and sisters called him. I smiled and repeated, “Yeshu.”

I summoned back my thoughts and explained what troubled me, the encounter with Zealots on the road to Jericho and the admission by Shimon and Yehuda. I ventured, “Are you—?”

He said quickly, “Don’t let it concern you.”

I could not, in spite of my awe of him, let it go. “But it does.”

“Then I need to speak to you in confidence,” he said.

I said solemnly, “You have my word.”

“They don’t yet understand,” he said. When he paused afterward I thought, Whatever can he mean by that? I watched him turn his head and gaze toward the Temple. “I’m still feeling my way. It may be that the Lord does not have in mind what they expect. I’m not sure. Either way, I need their fire.”

He had a way of confounding your thinking. I didn’t know what to say.

I heard movement nearby. Yoanna emerged out of the darkness. Her timing distressed me. Still not satisfied, I did not want to leave. Perhaps she would only ask a quick question.

“May I speak with you, Master?” she asked.

“Of course,” Yeshua said.

“Would it be better if I came back when you are alone?”

I could not ignore the suggestion and began to consider a way to excuse myself. I felt Yeshua’s arm reach across my shoulders, just the way he had reassured Yehuda of Kerioth. “You can speak freely in front of Mariamne,” he said.

Could he really be saying that of me? I thought. I was flattered but amazed that he felt comfortable letting me hear his private conversations.

Yoanna did not appear to find it strange. “Master, I need you to advise me about something, but even greater than that I have some news you should know.”

“Go ahead.”

“You know how much I want to go with you on the mission tomorrow, but my husband insists that I return with him to Tiberias.”

“That choice is for you alone,” Yeshua said.

She had hoped for more direct advice. “Yes,” she said sadly, “I understand.” Then she looked up. “Either way, you need to be aware of something. Chouzas almost never shares with me what Herodes is thinking or planning. He has the king’s confidence because he knows how to keep the king’s secrets. But today he did share something. I believe he did it for a purpose. He stressed that I should tell no one, but he didn’t make me promise and I have the feeling that he wants me to tell you. Otherwise, why mention it today?”

“What is that?” Yeshua asked, his arm still snug against my back.

“Herodes plans to arrest the Baptizer,” she said. “He plans to wait for a week or two, until the crowds have returned to their homes from the holiday, but he is concerned how many thousands of people might come out to him this summer. He is concerned that Yochanan is building a following and he wants to lock him out of sight somewhere.”

Now Yeshua released me and took two steps toward the Temple. He ran his hand down the back of his head and rested it on his neck. He stood pensive for awhile. Finally he said, without turning around, “Thank you for telling me this, Yoanna. I value your friendship. We both need to consider that there are more ways to do the Lord’s work than to go into the wilderness and immerse people.” Then he turned and added, “And I think you should thank Chouzas as well.”

“Master, I can’t—”

“Oh, I don’t mean in words,” Yeshua said. “I mean by going back to Tiberias with him.”

“You think so?”

“Yes. Chouzas seems to be making choices of his own.”

“Will I be able to join you later?” she asked.

“When the time is right. Meanwhile, you serve the Lord in the best way you can—and perhaps the way he has arranged.”

She stepped close and gave him a hug. “You know you can depend on me.”

“I know.”

She stepped back and began to tug at something tied to her belt. She freed the knot and held out a small bag. “If I can’t come with you, I still want to help your mission.”

“Thank you,” he said, “but you know that I can’t.” He meant that as a man of the Lord he should not accept or even touch money.

“Her, then?” Yoanna asked, gesturing in my direction.

“A moment,” Yeshua said. He turned and called out toward the fire. “Yehuda! Yehuda of Kerioth!”

Soon I saw Yehuda hurrying to him out of the darkness.

“Yoanna is making a contribution to our mission,” Yeshua said. “I trust you to take care of it.”

Yehuda accepted the bag from her, surprised and awkward but clearly proud to be acknowledged trustworthy by the master. From that moment on, he kept the common purse.

“Go in peace,” Yeshua said to Yoanna. “Mariamne, will you tell my brother Yacob to come and see me?”

I did as Yeshua told me and then started preparing for sleep. Shalom and Maryam were near me and we talked for awhile about the day at the Temple and how much we enjoyed singing at the close of the ceremony. Then I stretched out under a blanket and stared at the stars. My last memory of that night is whispering to myself, “Yeshu.”         

Late the next morning we packed our possessions onto the ass-drawn cart and started down toward the city. There was no hurry this day, since our goal was only a three-hour walk west of Jerusalem. Most of the group departed with Yeshua, but his brothers Yacob, Yehuda, and Shimon, as well as Thomas and Philippos, remained behind. As we started down the hill I saw Yacob and Yehuda start in the opposite direction—toward Bethany and the road that led back to Jericho and the Jordan River.

We passed through the busy streets of Jerusalem and left the city through the Joppa Gate. We followed the winding road through the rugged hills until early afternoon. Then we turned off the road toward the south and followed a trail to the little town of Zobah.

Nearby there was a cave that held a natural reservoir of water. Outside the entrance to the cave there was a wide valley and Yeshua told Shimon and Andreas and Yukhanan son of Zebedee to choose a good place to put up some dwellings for us all. He planned to remain in the area for some time.

I left him alone and helped Maria and her daughters gather sticks for firewood. Later I saw him standing by himself contemplating the cave entrance. I went to him.

“You’ve been here before?”

“Twice,” Yeshua said, “when I was young.”

“How did you find this place?”

“Yochanan knew. His family lived in En Kerem—we passed near it a while ago. He used to roam these hills and knew everything in them. He brought me here.”

“It seems like hallowed ground,” I said.

“That is why the people of the area used it to rededicate themselves to the Lord.”

“The water, you mean?”

“Yes,” he said. “Come with me.”

He led me toward the cave entrance and down some steps. At a portal cut into the stone we could see into the darkness inside. Water pooled in the depth of the cave, replenished from a cleft in the ceiling.

He explained. “When Yochanan felt the call, he left Qumran and came back here. He devised a ceremony. He would scoop water into a jug and pour some of it over the head of the person who felt the need to admit his sins and start over. Then he would break the jug on the rocks to symbolize the person’s break with his sinful past.”

Countless fragments from shattered jugs lay around us.

“He was successful. Many people came. But one day he was considering the scriptures, about the nation of Israel crossing the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land, and the Lord’s intention to return from that direction, and he had a vision. If his duty was to prepare the way, then that was where he should go to purify people. So Yochanan left this place and went to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan.”

“But he started his mission here?”


Not all of the jugs were shattered. A few lay discarded near the cave wall. “Yeshu,” I said suddenly, “will you purify me? Will you do it now?”

No one else was near. There would only be Yeshua and myself—just the two of us in the hallowed cave. I saw it in my mind’s eye as a beautiful moment and a treasured memory.

He did not respond. He had no expression.

Surprised and saddened, my eyes suddenly tearing, I asked, “Why not?”

“Mariamne,” he said, “for some reason I can’t even explain to myself, you are special.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“I know,” he said. “I see more in you than you see in yourself.”

“Why does that mean that I can’t be purified?”

“You can. You will. But baptism is only a symbol.”

“I don’t understand.” It was all that I knew to say.

He approached me and placed his hands on my shoulders, the same way he did to speak to me on the Mount of Olives. “I want you to see what I see. I believe you can. Then I would be very pleased to baptize you.”

“What is it you see?”

“What is possible under the sun.”

I wanted to understand, but he seemed to give me no place to begin.

“Sometimes,” he said, “I feel as though I am standing on a height looking down. On a tower, you might say—looking down on everything from a tower that no one else sees. For some reason, the Lord has chosen to give me a better view. But then that sounds as though I am placing myself above others, doesn’t it? If anything, the truth is the opposite. I feel called to serve. Perhaps it’s better to think of it as a light. Yes. For some reason, a light has come to me. It came to me first and it causes me to see in a different way and my mission is to help others receive it. Others may not see as I do, but I believe they can. Their eyes just need to be opened. Their minds need to be made aware.”

If I had heard him speaking in the market in Tiberias, without knowing him, I might have considered him possessed.

“Shimon and Andreas and Yacob and Yukhanan want very much to see as I do, but their minds seem to be clouded. At times my brother Yacob comprehends, but—” He trailed off. Then he peered into my eyes. “But you— There is something about you I noticed when I first saw you. Not something on the outside, not even something you have said or done. I can only say that I sense something.”

I could not imagine what he thought he saw. I was a poor, uneducated, aimless woman, very nearly crushed by demons who had taken up residence inside me, a woman only made useful by his healing touch. What did he think he saw in me?

“I will baptize you,” he said. “You have my word. But first I would like to see if I am right—that you already have a spark of this light inside you and I can make it grow. Will you listen to what I have to say and try to see what I mean?”

In my mind he was mistaken and I was nothing, but what else could I say to such an offer?


People began to arrive at the cave the very next day. There were all kinds. Every one had followed a different road, but all were sick at heart about the way they had been living and all shared a desire to start fresh in the eyes of the Lord. The first few were from Zobah. They had heard that a holy man had come, a disciple of Yochanan. Then people began to arrive from Jerusalem. Yeshua had talked about his intentions while he taught at Solomon’s Portico. Also, he had given instructions to Shimon the Zealot and Thomas and Philippos to continue to go there each day during the feast and tell others. When the holiday ended a stream of visitors began to arrive.

Every day Yeshua would begin by going off somewhere to pray, taking along only Shimon and Andreas or Yacob and Yukhanan. When he returned he would baptize or speak or help those who needed to be healed. Late in the day he would take me aside for an hour.

On the very first day he pledged me to utmost secrecy. I later understood that he was burdened with thoughts that he could not share with anyone, even his disciples. He feared the effect the knowledge might have on them. Beyond that, in which should he confide? If they all knew his secrets the secrets would surely slip out of the group, even though by accident. If he told only a select few the others would sooner or later discover it and become resentful. He told me that some secrets he intended to share with his disciples and his family, but deeper secrets he wanted to share only with me. He also said forthrightly that there were still deeper secrets even I could not know—until the proper time came.

When I assured him that I would rather die than reveal what he confided in me, he told me of his own call. He knew from his study that the scriptures pointed to this as the end of an age. He told me of the prophecies that Yochanan fulfilled, how he was the last in a line of great figures the Lord had sent—the greatest being Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel—to cry out to the people of Israel and urge them to return to the covenant. 

When Yochanan moved his mission from Zobah to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan, which was but a short walk up-river from Qumran, many in the community of brothers understood what it signified. Yochanan was the one Malachi foresaw—the prophet who would precede the messiah. Yeshua, who had always felt a special link with the Lord, then heard the call. He knew that he could no longer remain in Qumran. He felt that it was his destiny to take part in the coming of the kingdom.

Yes, the Temple was polluted. Yes, those in charge of the rites were impure and under the heel of Gentiles. But though he valued the piety of the Essenes, their simplicity of living, and their sharing of possessions, he could no longer agree with their decision to separate themselves from the rest of humanity. The kingdom of heaven on earth must be for all people, not just those living in pious communities. Yochanan welcomed all who were ready to change their lives, no matter what their circumstances, and Yeshua agreed with him. To renew the nation, Yeshua felt the need to work among the sinners and the low and the forgotten.

Once he visited Yochanan to be immersed, Yeshua felt the power of the Lord stir within him. He felt an awakening. His eyes opened and he began to see in the different way that he tried to describe to me in the cave. He saw that those he must persuade to turn toward the coming kingdom were equals, all sharing dignity as the Lord’s creations.

Most people looked at others and saw differences. They were not family but unrelated. They were not friend but enemy. They were Judean or Galilean or Levite or Benjaminite. They were too sinful or too pious or too rude or too polite. They were poor or wealthy or fastidious or unclean. They were lower or higher, meant to serve or be served. Most times people used the differences they saw as a way to look down on others. What they did not understand was that by doing this they diminished themselves. To treat others as lesser is to make yourself less than you can be—less than you ought to be in the eyes of the Lord.

This Yeshua understood. He saw what was possible. He saw the new kingdom as a place where everyone would treat each other as brothers and sisters. Perhaps it was his presence, perhaps the daily regimen of being reminded how the Lord must look at us from on high, but under Yeshua’s guidance my vision began to change.

Shimon and the sons of Zebedee had started to treat me differently. I saw that they resented the time that Yeshua devoted to me, a woman. I was a distraction from what they saw as his mission, taking away time he might spend with them. Instead of my responding to their resentment with resentment, Yeshua encouraged me to love them with their weaknesses. Like all of the rest of us, they were blessed in some ways and burdened in others.

When I saw the new arrivals every morning, I stopped thinking of them as strangers well or poorly dressed, like me or unlike me in speech. If the Lord had been so inclined, I might have been born into their families and they would be my brothers and sisters. Therefore, I began to think of them not as strangers but as brothers and sisters.

My eyes opened.

One day, after the others who had waited patiently in line had been baptized, Yeshua reached out his hand in my direction. I went to him and gave him mine. I stood where the others had stood and bowed my head. He scooped up water from the pool and poured it over my head. “Mariamne, I baptize you in the name of the Father.” Then he said, “Follow the way of the Lord from this day forward,” and smashed the jug against the stone wall. He turned to me with a smile and all I could do was smile back.

I stepped into the sunlight outside the cave and the day seemed fresh. The people in our group all welcomed me anew and from that day they were my brothers and sisters.

The next morning, after his period of solitude, Yeshua directed Shimon and Yacob and Yukhanan to go to the cave and carry on in his place. From that day forward he never again baptized anyone, instead devoting himself to healing the sick.

At midday that same day, his brothers Yacob and Yehuda appeared on the trail from Zobah, walking toward us. They had returned from their mission to the Jordan Valley. Yacob told Yeshua that, following his instructions, they had warned Yochanan privately about Herodes’ intentions. The next morning, before dawn, they slipped away with him and his key disciples. They followed the Jordan River northward and crossed into the Decapolis, where Yochanan chose a new site at Aenon, near Salim. Being outside the authority of Herodes, he could continue to criticize the king in safety.

Yacob and Yehuda stayed with the Baptizer a few weeks. Then they returned to Jericho and spent some time in the market telling the vendors and passing travelers where to find Yochanan’s new camp.

We continued our work at Zobah all that summer, except for the days we went up to Jerusalem for the festival of Weeks. Being nearer to Jerusalem and therefore so much easier to reach, Yeshua was far more successful in his efforts that summer than Yochanan. To go out to the Baptizer the people had to walk for three days. To reach our cave from Joppa Gate they had to walk for only three hours.

Those were wonderful days. We lived as one large family, caring for each other and adding hundreds of new members every week to the “silent army” Nathanael had spoken of, trying to restore and unify the nation under the noses of the Romans. We could not know how the coming of the kingdom would unfold. We only knew that every week there were more of us ready to act together selflessly on behalf of the Lord. Someday soon there would be a sign and Yeshua would understand and show us the way. Meanwhile we worked.

I grew well acquainted with his chief disciples that summer—my new brothers. The four he most relied on were Shimon and Andreas and Yacob and Yukhanan. Because Andreas was youngest and the most cautious in conversations, he found himself overshadowed by his brother and the Sons of the Storm-Wind. Outsiders typically thought of Yeshua and his three key men.

Of these three, as the months passed, Shimon came to be first among equals. He was physically larger and stronger than the sons of Zebedee, and no matter what task Yeshua gave him to do he could be sure that Shimon would see it through with bull-like determination. One day Yeshua referred to him as Kefa. This suited Shimon, because to be named “Rock” by the master was a great compliment; it also removed confusion about whether Yeshua was calling to him or to Yeshua’s brother Shimon the Zealot.

For much the same reason Yeshua’s brother Yehuda came to be known as Thaddaios, though it was not Yeshua who named him but Kefa and the sons of Zebedee. Yehuda had a manly chest and he walked with his shoulders back in a way that could be mistaken for prideful by those who did not know him. Kefa, Yacob and Yukhanan found it amusing to refer to him as “Chesty,” and it removed confusion about whether they were addressing him or Yehuda Thomas or Yehuda of Kerioth. Soon everyone but his own family was calling him Thaddaios.

Thomas was the quietest disciple, even more so than Andreas. He resembled Yeshua in his moments of serenity; that was when he could most easily be mistaken for him. What he lacked was that part of Yeshua that erupted from tranquility when the moment came for decisiveness and leadership, that part that everyone sensed and respected, like a lion lurking in the shadows. Thomas perceived Yeshua as something more than a teacher and perhaps even more than a man. He often spoke of trying to peer behind Yeshua’s words to the inner spirit that gave them expression.

Philippos was the tallest of the disciples and very lean. He had a reserved manner and was unfailingly thoughtful, reminding me greatly of Yeshua’s brother Yacob. Philippos’ closest companion within the group was Nathanael, whose youth and natural cheerfulness made them an oddly matched pair. I greatly enjoyed Nathanael’s company myself, especially when I was exhausted after some trying day. Philippos and Nathanael were devoted to the study of the Law and the prophets and they could discuss the subject endlessly. It was Nathanael who first told me about the oracle of Balaam, recorded in the book of Numbers: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near—a star shall come out of Yaakov, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” He was convinced that Yeshua had come to fulfill this ancient prophecy; and so was Philippos. I listened with interest but said nothing of my conversations with Yeshua.

Yehuda of Kerioth appeared pleased to enter the bosom of our group of Galileans, but in my mind there always seemed to be one last step that he could not take. Though it receded deeper and deeper into him, I never lost sight of that wariness I observed when he first approached us on the slope of the Mount of Olives. At times he adored Yeshua like a woman would; at times he seemed disappointed and even angered by some action the master took. As much as I tried to penetrate Yehuda’s shield and speak to him as a brother, I could never quite succeed.

Yacob, brother of Yeshua, was the most devout disciple. With his long, wild hair and sober countenance he reminded me greatly of Yochanan the Baptizer. I cannot say that he was more devout than Yeshua, but in scrupulously following all the requirements of the Law, including those special ones for Nazirites—not drinking wine or enjoying grapes or cutting his hair—and by never eating animal flesh, he stood as an example of purity for everyone. Out of a desire to be simple and humble before the Lord, he did not even wear sandals.

Mattiya, or, in the Hellene way, Maththaios, was another quiet man. The one Yeshua had called away from his life as a tax collector, he was skilled with numbers and in writing. He seemed in awe of the things Yeshua was able to do, but so were we all.

At one time or another all of the brothers conducted the baptisms. Usually, though, Yeshua told Kefa or Andreas or the sons of Zebedee to perform them. While the ritual took place in the cave, Yeshua would see all who needed to be healed. Almost everyone who came to him went away improved and grateful. Those he could not heal he said were too mired in their own sin to accept the Lord’s help. They showed insufficient faith or were insincere. He felt compassion for them because he knew that every person could depend on the Lord—could live as righteously as Yeshua did—if he tried with all of his heart.

We all lived as one great family and it was the first family I had belonged to since I was a girl of nine. We suffered through the petty squabbles all families have, but with our goal in view they were passing storms. My one regret was that Rivka had not come. In her place I found myself sharing my thoughts with Maria, Shalom, and Maryam—especially Shalom, who was my own age. The two of us talked of many things every day, but because we were growing past the age when girls commonly wed, we often discussed men. I tried to keep secret my fascination for her brother, not understanding in my youth and ignorance how observant other people could be. Regardless, how could I admit such feelings openly? I might reveal myself as a fool, interpreting Yeshua’s expressions of kindness to me as something more. Perhaps it was simply that he recognized in me some kindred spirit.

We continued with our work through the summer and fall, pausing only for the week of the feast of Tabernacles. After that the days grew shorter and the weather turned colder and fewer people came.

Late one afternoon we saw two figures approaching the camp along the trail from the north. I didn’t know either of them, but Nathanael said as they drew nearer, “The tall one is Lazar. He is one of the closest disciples of Yochanan.”

Yeshua overheard and came out of the tent where he did his healing and watched them approach.

The two strode up to him directly, without sitting or asking for water. “Herodes’ men came during the night,” the tall one said. “They secretly crossed the border from Perea and came to Aenon. They took Yochanan away in chains.”



143    immersing the people in Judea as Yochanan was doing at the Jordan River — John 3:22-23.

146    From that moment on, he kept the common purse. John 12:6 and 13:29.

147    Nearby there was a cave that held a natural reservoir of water. — Shimon Gibson, The Cave of John the Baptist, 189. Dr. Gibson has excavated the cave and is convinced that John the Baptizer used it and that Jesus likely used it too during his ministry in Judea. The floor was strewn with thousands of fragments of small water vessels which appeared to have been deliberately shattered.

150    “What is possible under the sun.” (And following) — Spong, Jesus for the Non-Religious, 274. Spong expounds the view that Jesus recognized and sought to break down societal barriers in favor of essential humanity.

151    When he returned he would baptize — John 4:2 asserts that it was not Jesus but his disciples who baptized those who came, but the denial reads like an interpolation by a redactor. Both John 3:22 and 3:26 flatly state that Jesus himself was performing the ceremony. See Meier, A Marginal Jew (Vol. 2), 121-122.

153    he could no longer agree with their decision to separate themselves — Schonfield, The Jesus Party, 251.

153    This Yeshua understood.  — Spong, Jesus for the Non-Religious, 259. Regarding Jesus’ insight, Spong says: “Treating another human being as subhuman always makes the perpetrator subhuman. No one can finally be built up at someone else’s expense. It simply does not work.”

155    Yochanan chose a new site at Aenon, near Salim. — John 3:23. According to Shimon Gibson, Cave of John the Baptist, 241: “About twelve kilometers … to the south of Beth Shean (Scythopolis), there is a region which would fit Aenon perfectly. … On the north side of this area is Tell Shalem, which undoubtedly must be Salim … and so the place where John baptized at Aenon may have been at any one of the springs in the vicinity of Tell Shalem.” 

155    the festival of Weeks. — Pentecost, which occurred seven weeks after Passover. Also called the festival of First Fruits.

155    Yeshua was far more successful in his efforts that summer — John 4:1.

156    One day Yeshua referred to him as Kefa. Kefa was Aramaic for “rock.” (In Hellenized Aramaic, Kephas or Cephas.) This was translated into Greek as Petra, made masculine as Petros, and this passed into Latin as Petrus and English as Peter. In Matthew Peter receives the nickname at Caesarea Philippi, when he identifies Jesus as the messiah. In the Gospel of John Jesus bestows it on him at their first meeting.

156    Yehuda came to be known as Thaddaios, — Schonfield, The Jesus Party, 298. Thaddaios meant “Breast” (or “Chest”) in Greek. When the lists of the apostles are compared, Mark includes Thaddeus, Matthew names Lebbaeus (“heart”) at the same point, and Luke calls the same person Judas. No one really knows if they all referred to the same person, but it seems a safe assumption that they did.

157    “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near — Numbers 24:17. (NRSV)

158    by never eating animal flesh, … he did not even wear sandals. — Painter, Just James, 211, citing Epiphanius.

158    Those he could not heal — Mark 6:5-6 documents that not everyone who came to Jesus to be healed went away cured and that he attributed the failure to “their unbelief.”

159    the feast of Tabernacles — This holiday began one week after Yom Kippur and occurred in October.

160    They took Yochanan away in chains.” — TJS, Luke 3:19-20.


11               The return to Galilee.


Yochanan’s arrest came as hard news to Yeshua. He had not foreseen it. He called together his own disciples and Yochanan’s two and spent the afternoon and evening discussing what had happened at Aenon.

There were some—the sons of Zebedee, Thaddaios and Shimon, even Yehuda of Kerioth—who argued in favor of taking action. Herodes had ordered Yochanan brought to him in the southern fortress of Machaerus, where he had moved with his army to be ready for an invasion from Nabatea. Perhaps by gathering some more armed men and slipping into Machaerus pretending to be traders they could learn where Yochanan was being kept. Perhaps they could devise a plan to overcome his guards and steal him away in the night.

Yeshua was certain that this rash act by the Fox (his name for Herodes Antipas) must be part of the Lord’s plan. The Almighty would not allow his prophet to be arrested and imprisoned if it did not advance his own purpose. Yacob agreed, ultimately joined by Philippos, Nathanael, and Mattiya. Kefa could not decide between the two points of view, leaning toward action but being in awe of Yeshua’s intelligence.

In the morning Yeshua went out alone to pray. He returned earlier than was customary and gathered everyone together, climbing onto a boulder so all could see and hear him.

He lost no time in piercing to the heart of the matter. “It might well be true,” he said, “that the Fox arrested Yochanan for the way he denounced Herodias. On the other hand, if he did so because he is concerned about the growing number of people who are being baptized, then I, myself, would be his next target. Herodes would need only to persuade Kayafa of his fears, and urge that Kayafa send his police from Jerusalem. We have to consider that they might be on the road soon. With so much left to do and so many people left to reach, the time is not yet right to confront those in power.”

Standing above us on the boulder, with the morning sun at his back and the wind rippling his clothing, he made me think of Moshe in his glory, addressing the Israelites during the Exodus.

“This morning I asked for guidance. Abba told me that we should all return to Galilee. There we know the country. There we can move among people we know while we listen for news from Jerusalem and Machaerus. I want Kefa and the sons of Zebedee to take you all back to Kapharnahum, going by way of the Jordan Valley road. You will stay there until I come. I myself will go straight north, by the road through Samaria, and I want only Thaddaios and Shimon and Nathanael to come with me.”

He looked down at Nathanael. “Bar-Tolmai, can we stay with your relatives in Cana until the Lord tells me how to proceed?”

“Yes,” Nathanael answered him, “of course.”

I was immediately concerned for Yeshua. I knew that he wanted to avoid taking the road along the Jordan River because it was possible he would attract the attention of Herodes’ spies. However, on the road through Samaria there was no doubt he would pass among people who were hostile. There had been enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews for centuries.

I wanted to travel with him, but I knew he would never allow it. Because everything happened so quickly—he started preparing to leave as soon as he had finished speaking—I had no opportunity to speak with him alone. I caught his eye from ten paces away as he was waiting for Nathanael to join him and his brothers. “Yeshu, be careful,” I said.

He responded with a guarded smile. “I’ll see you in Galilee.” Then Nathanael came out of his tent and they left.

The rest of the group packed up and at midday we started for Jerusalem.

We camped on the Mount of Olives that night and the next day walked down to Jericho. Then, over the next three days, it was back to the roadside caves, Scythopolis, and Tiberias, always concerned that we would be stopped by Herodes’ men. I constantly wondered how Yeshua and his group were faring, especially when we passed through the forest where the Zealots had jumped out and I naturally thought of Thaddaios and Shimon.

We were also concerned crossing the border into Galilee from the Decapolis, but the guards at the checkpoint just stood and watched us pass. 

When the Sea of Galilee came into view I felt relieved. I had never been away from it before and now several months had passed since I last saw it. We were all feeling more secure in familiar country and I began to think that I might leave the group and stop in Magdala for one night to visit Rivka.

We passed through Tiberias, ill at ease as we walked in the shadow of Herodes’ palace, high on the hill. We kept our gaze forward and felt better as we approached the north gate and were about to leave the city.

Then a man hailed us from behind and we all tensed. “Wait!” he shouted. “You!”

We were still within the city wall. Had we been beyond it we would have tried to hurry away. We stole glances at each other, but no one turned just yet. Perhaps we were mistaken and he was shouting at someone else.

“Wait!” he shouted again, now much closer. “You there!”

Unable to ignore him any longer, we stopped and turned with dread.

He was not a military man, but from his fine dress he clearly had some role in the palace. I noticed that his sandals were of fine leather. “Is this the group that travels with Yeshua of Nazareth?” the man asked, breathing heavily.

Kefa strode back to the rear of the group with a wary expression. “He is not with us,” he said.

“But is this his group?” the man repeated.

Kefa hesitated. At last he replied, “Yes, but as I say—”

“Is there a Mariamne among you? Mariamne of Magdala?”

I stiffened with fear. Kefa hesitated again, unsure whether to admit my presence.

I timidly replied, “Yes.”

The man turned to me. “Yoanna, the wife of Chouzas the king’s steward, would like to speak with you.”

“She’s here?” I exclaimed.

“She was watching from her terrace and saw you pass. She requests that you come to see her.”

My fear flew away, but now I realized that the entire group would have to wait for me. We had all hoped to reach Kapharnahum by sunset or in the twilight.

“How long will she be?” Kefa asked the man. “We are on our way to Kapharnahum.”

The man was clean-shaven and looked Greek. “I have no way to know.”

Kefa looked uncertain.

The man said, “I have no doubt that Yoanna will provide someone to escort her back to you.”

Kefa considered, then called to his brother, “Andreas, stay with Mariamne and walk with her to Kapharnahum, tonight or tomorrow.”

Andreas came forward, taking his bag from the cart and mine as well. He lashed them to a pole and braced it across his strong shoulder.

The Greek man identified himself as Timotheos and led the two of us back to the palace gate. Then we climbed. Neither Andreas nor I had ever seen such opulence. There were marble stairs and balustrades leading to a large theater and then terraces with fountains and gardens filled with flowers. The higher we climbed the better our view of the great expanse of water stretched out below. I saw Magdala up the coast and beyond that Kapharnahum, and to the east there was a magnificent view of the mountains in Gaulanitis.

Just below the level where Herodes lived there were other houses for those who served in his court. There Yoanna waited for us. She was excited to see both of us, though she did not know Andreas very well. She asked about the travel down from Jerusalem and whether we had encountered any problems. Then she had a servant bring Andreas something to eat and drink and took me aside to a nearby garden, begging his pardon but saying that she wanted to speak to me woman to woman.

We sat on a marble bench, our knees touching. When she began to whisper, I guessed that she must have some message for Yeshua.

“I didn’t see Yeshua in the group, so I asked for you. Why isn’t he with you?”

I told her of Yochanan’s arrest, how we had broken camp immediately after, and how Yeshua had thought it prudent to travel through Samaria instead.

“There are things he needs to know,” she said. “Will you see him soon?”

“He told us to wait for him in Kapharnahum. I don’t know when he will come.”

“Where is he?”

“Cana. He went to stay with Nathanael’s family. Don’t you have a trusted servant you can send to Cana?”

“Mariamne, in this palace you trust no one—not even the walls. Listen, he was very clear that night on the Mount of Olives. He trusts you. In fact, I suspect it is more than trust. I want to tell you some things and you have to find a way to reach him.”

I could not let it pass. “What do you mean, ‘more than trust’?”

“You know very well,” she said with the trace of a smile. “Listen, Herodes has received reports that Aretas is preparing for war. He is doing it very quietly, but Herodes has spies in his country. Once he learned that for certain, it became important to silence Yochanan. To meet the threat from Aretas he is drawing down the number of soldiers in Galilee and gathering them in Perea. He can’t have the threat of an uprising in Galilee when he is facing invasion from the east.”

“Yochanan isn’t calling for an uprising.”

“A ruler can never be sure. Besides, what if some of Yochanan’s followers should misjudge Herodes’ tolerance of Yochanan for weakness and decide to act on their own?”

“Then, is Yeshua in danger?”

“Not yet. Chouzas has been saying more in front of me recently than ever before. He thinks Yeshua will be tolerated as long as he doesn’t appear to challenge Herodes. However, Yeshua needs to know that Herodes has spies everywhere—in every crowd. If he is careful, he will go on being considered a religious man and healer. However, if he speaks against authority or if he begins to show too much influence—that is, in the eyes of Herodes’ spies—then he will end up like Yochanan.”

I said, “Yeshua is worried that Herodes might persuade Kayafa to send men to arrest him. That is why we left Judea.”

“Kayafa might, but not because of Herodes. Kayafa has fears of his own. The people are roused right now to expect a deliverer. A talented speaker could tap into that power. Where would that leave Kayafa and the chief priests? All of their own power, all of their wealth and privilege, would be at risk. Kayafa would have to confront such a challenger and he would need to do so before he became too strong. If the Temple guard couldn’t contain him, Kayafa would have no choice but to call on the Roman forces. Then, even if he succeeded, he would lose authority in the eyes of the people by proving his reliance on the Gentiles.”

I knew what she was saying was true and important, but I felt a great loathing for such worldly politics and cunning. I was a simple woman who wanted a simple life. Oh, why did the Lord not come and intervene? Why did he continue to leave us in such an unpleasant state?

“It’s important that you reach Yeshua,” Yoanna said. “Tell him he can preach. Tell him he can heal. But tell him of the spies and that he must always be guarded in what he says. And tell him that he cannot rouse the people so much that they want to take action.”

She called to Timotheos, who was indoors. In a moment he came out to her bringing a bag of coins. She gave it to me for the needs of the group and I thanked her on their behalf. As soon as we met Andreas I gave it to him to protect. He took it with some unease.

Yoanna wished us well and we left.

Andreas was naturally curious to know what we had talked about. Because he was Kefa’s brother, I told him.

The sun had gone down before we reached Magdala. We would have to continue on to Kapharnahum in the morning. I knew we could spend the night with Rivka and I thought of all the news I had to share with her about the last several months.

When we arrived at her home I called out to her from outside the door. An elderly woman I had never seen appeared at the window. “Yes?”

I was confused. “I am looking for Rivka,” I said.

“Oh, no,” she said. “Were you a friend of hers?”

A chill went through me.

The woman explained that in mid-summer Rivka had taken to her bed with fever. Two days later she had gone to sleep and not awakened. There being no children, her possessions had been sold off and the money donated to the public good through the synagogue. This woman and her husband were given the house because they were needy.

The woman felt sorry for me. With night coming on she offered to let Andreas and me stay until morning. But I could not bear the thought of remaining there. Fortunately, the husband had a niece nearby who sometimes took in travelers. The niece and her husband at first assumed that Andreas and I were married, but after we explained they arranged two places in separate areas of the house. Grateful to have the shelter, we gave them two denarii from Yoanna’s bag.

The next day, in Kapharnahum, I told Kefa and the others what Yoanna had said. Because Yeshua had told us to wait, Kefa and the sons of Zebedee thought it best to do what we had been told. However, first Maria and then her son Yacob insisted that we should let him know immediately, since none of us knew where he might travel or what plans he might be making. So I made ready to continue on the next morning.

Meanwhile, I was witness to an incident that seemed insignificant at the time but in hindsight struck me as meaningful. I saw Andreas, who had clearly been unhappy to be in possession of Yoanna’s bag of coins, hand it to Yehuda of Kerioth. Andreas said not a word, but he conveyed his disdain for the money in his manner and Yehuda could not help but notice it. Yehuda glanced at me as I observed them.

I left the following morning in the company of Kefa and Thomas. We started about the second hour and followed the trail that ran along the south side of the Asamon Mountains. About the tenth hour we came to Cana. By asking the first people we saw we learned where Yeshua was staying, at the house of Nathanael’s uncle.

Yeshua was outside the house, leaning against a stone fence, deep in thought. When I caught sight of him my heart leaped with joy and I called out, “Yeshu!” 

He must have felt the same way because when he turned to greet me he hugged me and kissed me tenderly on the mouth.

If I was surprised by this, the others were astonished.

Kefa saw us through the window. After he and Nathanael and Thaddaios came out of the house, Kefa spoke for the rest, “Master, you are a rabbi—a holy man. Is it proper that this woman calls you Yeshu and you kiss her?”

Yeshua never betrayed any awkwardness. In fact, he continued to hold on to my hand. “Mariamne is my sister, Shimon. Just as you and Nathanael are my brothers. This is how the new kingdom will be. From now on, we all need to think of each other as brothers and sisters. Everyone should call me Yeshu. We all need to understand that we are of common blood. Don’t we have the same Father?” With this, he stepped up to Kefa and kissed his lips. Then he repeated the gesture with Nathanael. “Will you both accept me as your brother?”

For months now I had been challenged by his strange way of thinking. Whenever I thought I was growing accustomed to it he always seemed to find a new way to surprise. Kefa stood flustered, knowing that he was hearing wisdom but not sure how to respond. Nathanael had an awkward smile.

I told Yeshu why we had come—the message Yoanna had sent me to tell him. Then we spent the evening with Nathanael’s relatives, eating and talking outside under a pristine sky filled with a myriad of stars.

Yeshu shared the story of their crossing through Samaria, which in my mind helped to explain the warmth of his greeting when we arrived in Cana. About midday of the second day after they had left us at Zobah, while our group was descending the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, he and the others had come to Sychar. This was a town below Mount Gerizim, which to the Samaritans is sacred in the same way Mount Moriah and the Temple are to us. They say that sacred objects from the days of Moshe are hidden away somewhere in the mountain.

Yeshu, knowing that the tassels on his tallit were visible, did not want to attract attention in the town. He stopped at Yaakov’s well while his brothers and Nathanael went to find the market and purchase food. The sun was hot and Yeshu was thirsty, but there was no bucket at the well. When a Samaritan woman came to get water he politely asked her for some. She teased him, asking him how it was that a Jew would ask for a drink from a Samaritan? Having expected enmity from the Samaritans, he was charmed by the way she made light of their differences. When a person is thirsty, what does it matter who provides the water? When one person knows another is thirsty, what does it matter what beliefs he holds?

Yeshu and the woman began talking and discovered that they enjoyed each other’s company. They talked about events and how the time seemed ripe for the coming of the new kingdom. When Thaddaios and Shimon and Nathanael returned from the market, they were amazed to find him in such a lighthearted mood speaking with a Samaritan woman.

Thaddaios hinted that perhaps they should be on their way, since they were still a long way from Galilee and they needed to plant the seeds for the mission there. Yeshu responded, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.”

The woman so enjoyed Yeshu’s company that she had invited him to come into the town and meet her friends and neighbors. Seeing fields ripe for harvesting, Yeshu decided to accept her welcome. He spent the rest of that day and then the next talking with whoever felt the desire. He healed some and allowed Nathanael to immerse some and they left Sychar having created a great amount of good will.

“I was concerned about the passage through Samaritan country,” he said, “but I placed myself in Abba’s hands. In the end I thanked him for giving me the opportunity to meet with its people. I’m beginning to have a better understanding of his plan. Reclaiming Israel is the first step—but it is not the goal. Why not take the light everywhere? The light is what is important. And the scope keeps growing. When you open your heart, new things become possible. Open your heart completely and all things become possible.” I could almost see the light inhabiting him. His expression was that of someone approaching ecstasy. He turned his eyes to look at my face and I felt that light and that love directed fully at me, like light from a blazing fire streaming through a window into the night.

When the others began to retire inside to sleep, I had the feeling that he wanted me to remain behind so he could speak with me alone. I stayed and in a moment he guided me away from the building to a place we could speak without being overheard.

“There’s something I want to share with you,” he said softly. He appeared to look directly into my eyes, but the moonlight was so faint that I could scarcely recognize his features. “It’s a burden I’ve carried alone for a long time, but now I want someone else to know. The signs have always pointed to Yochanan. I feared I was mistaken, so I kept this buried in my own heart.” He turned aside and stretched an arm across my shoulders the way he did that night on the Mount of Olives. “Do you find it strange that Yochanan never performs any of the wonders the people expected from Elijah?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not sure what all of the prophecies foresaw.”

“I don’t mean that he is not the prophet—I have no doubt of that. But I’ve always expected that one day he would demonstrate the Lord’s power. That is why I found it so difficult to understand how Herodes’ men took him away in chains. Now they have him in Machaerus. He sits in prison. It is as though he is waiting for the person for whom he has prepared the way to act.”

I looked at him.

Yeshu started confiding in me scriptures he had discovered—scriptures that spoke directly to him. Others read them and saw prophetic hints and enigmas. Yeshu looked at the same scrolls and felt the Lord reach out and tap his chest, identifying him and no other.

Isaiah wrote: “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” Maria said that Yosef had had a dream in which he was told to name his son Yeshua, which in Hebrew meant “Lord save us”—and of course Yehoshua of old had led the Israelites into the Promised Land.

Jeremiah wrote: “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise for David a righteous branch, and a king shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” Yeshu’s hometown was Nazareth, which meant “the town of the branch.”

Amos wrote that the Lord would “raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen.” Yeshu was descended from David, whose kingdom had passed into the hands of others.

Micah wrote that the one “to be ruler in Israel” would come forth from Bethlehem. Yeshu was born in Bethlehem.

Isaiah said: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.” Even as a child, Yeshu had possessed the gift of eloquence.

Then one day, in a Psalm, Yeshu was startled to see even a reference to the tap on his chest and his deep piety: “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God, your Law is within my heart.”

From the same passages his brother Thaddaios had recited for me on the road to Jericho, Yeshu knew there were to be two anointed ones to bring about the new kingdom—the priest descended from Aaron and the king he would stand beside to counsel, the descendant of David.

Yeshu then said to me, “I have something else to tell you, about my immersion by Yochanan. I want you to know. First, I went to see my family. I told my mother that I had left the Essenes because I felt called to undertake a mission and help Yochanan. Then I went to his camp on the Jordan. I met with him one night and we talked about the separate paths we had taken to that meeting. The next morning I dressed in white linen and he took me out and had me kneel in the water of the Jordan. He placed his hand on the back of my head and guided me down below the surface of the water while he said a devotion to the Lord. When he pulled away his hand as a sign for me to rise out of the water, reborn, I came out and threw my head back, filled with happiness.”

He paused. “That much I have told others. What happened next I have never confided in anyone. While I was staring into the sky, renewed, I had a vision. The clouds parted. A solitary white dove fluttered down toward me. In my head I heard the words—” His voice broke. I had never known him to be so filled with emotion. He cleared his throat. “In my head—I heard the words—‘You are my son. Today I have begotten you.’ ”

I was suddenly very cold in the night air. I shivered.

Yeshu rubbed his hand briskly across my shoulder to warm me. Then he leaned close and kissed me on the lips, more tenderly this time than he had upon my arrival. We stood side by side gazing at the sky together. He kept his arm around my shoulders and I ventured to lean my head against his chest and place my arm around his waist.



162    the Fox (his name for Herodes Antipas) — Luke 13:32.

163    On the other hand, if he did so because he is concerned — Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 50. Vermes speaks for many scholars when he says, “Far from losing his head because of his criticism of the tetrarch’s unorthodox marriage, as the Gospels assert, John owed his downfall to his powers of eloquence, which … might have been used … for political aims.”

171    clearly been unhappy to be in possession of Yoanna’s bag of coins Jesus’ disdain of money is evident in his directions when sending out the twelve (Mark 6:8) and in the fact that he never actually touched the coin in the “Render unto Caesar” scene at the Temple (Mark 12:15; Matthew 22:19; Luke 20:24). It seems reasonable that his followers would have been equally disdainful.

171    about the second hour … About the tenth hour — Daytime hours were reckoned starting with dawn, about six o’clock. The second hour would be eight o’clock and the tenth hour about four in the afternoon.

171    kissed me tenderly on the mouth. — Gospel of Philip. (See Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 42.) The word “mouth” is unreadable in the text, but is implied. (If the missing word was “forehead” or “cheek” the disciples would hardly have frowned on his display of affection for Mary.)

172    he and the others had come to Sychar. — John 4:5. This story is not considered historical by The Jesus Seminar. I incorporate it in modified form because Jesus likely passed through Sychar as he returned to Galilee through Samaria and at some point he overcame the longstanding bias Jews had against the Samaritans—evident in his parable of the Good Samaritan.

172    They say that sacred objects from the days of Moshe — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.4.1.

172    the tassels on his tallit were visible, — My suggestion for why Jesus sent his disciples into town but would not go himself. As a Jewish holy man, he would have worn the prayer shawl known as a tallit—a long, rectangular piece of linen or wool cloth draped around his neck that hung down in front of the body to the thighs. In prayer the shawl would be used to cover the head. When not in prayer or a religious situation he would have slipped it down onto his neck, wearing it beneath his tunic. Numbers 15:37-38 required that each of the four corners of such a piece of apparel have a fringe, which Jews of the era interpreted as a distinctive tassel known as a tzitzit. These tassels hung below the hem of the tunic and were visible. Another possibility is that he was wearing tefillin—black leather boxes containing bits of scripture which pious Jews strapped to their forehead and arm at prayer time. (See Deuteronomy 6:8 and 11:18.)

173    ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’ — John 4:35. (NRSV)

174    The light is what is important.  — Spong, Jesus for the Non-Religious, 255. I credit Spong for this elucidation of Jesus and his message.

175    “The Lord called me before I was born, — Isaiah 49:1. (NRSV)

175    Yeshua, which in Hebrew meant “Lord save us” — Yeshua was the Aramaic version of Yehoshua.

175    “The days are coming, says the Lord, — Jeremiah 23:5. (KJV)

175    Nazareth, which meant “the town of the branch.” — This translation, inspired by Isaiah 11:1 and based on the N-Z-R root in Hebrew, is disputed by many.

175    “raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen.” — Amos 9:11. (KJV)

175    the one “to be ruler in Israel” — Micah 5:2. (KJV)

175    “The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned, — Isaiah 50:4. (KJV)

176    “Here I am; in the scroll of the book — Psalm 40:7-8. (NRSV)

176    two anointed ones — Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 158-159. The etymology of the term “messiah” suggested a leader physically anointed with oil, but in practice the concept could better be rendered as “appointed” or “installed in office” by God.

176    While I was staring into the sky, renewed, — Mark 1:10-11.

176    ‘You are my son.  Today I have begotten you.’ ” — Psalm 2:7. (NRSV)





12             We return to Kapharnahum.


Four days later we were back in Kapharnahum, gathered on the hillside west of town just as we had done on the very first day I met Yeshu. This time listeners filled the slope. When the disciples had gone through the market announcing that the healer who cured the demon-possessed man in their synagogue had returned from Judea, they were surrounded and found it difficult to move.

Yeshu had made a decision in Cana, after praying about the matter from the time he departed Zobah and during his passage through Samaria. He would no longer baptize people. That was Yochanan’s way. Instead, feeling the personal authority he had confided in me that night in Cana, he would heal and he would teach. Yochanan’s disciples could carry on Yochanan’s work. Let them immerse. Yeshu intended to serve as the Lord’s hands and work to usher in the kingdom. 

He did take to heart Yoanna’s warnings. He spent time considering what he wanted to teach and crafted his message into parables. Yeshu stood completely alone in the way he used parables. Other teachers employed them as aids to support the points they were making. Yeshu’s parables were so thought-provoking that they became the teaching itself.

“Friends!” he called out to those on the hillside. “We just returned from Judea. Following the example of Yochanan bar Zecharyah, we went out into the wilderness west of Jerusalem and we restored people’s faith. People just like you. Thousands! The message is spreading. The towns and villages of Judea and Galilee are filling with people prepared for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Now I have a message for you.” He paused. “Congratulations!”

That caught their attention.

“Congratulations, you poor! God’s domain belongs to you. Congratulations, you hungry! You will have a feast. Congratulations, you who weep now! You will laugh.

“When I was here among you I told you the kingdom was coming soon. I’m sure many of you have been watching for it. But now I’m here to tell you, it will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘Look, over there!’ In truth, it is spread out upon the earth right now and people don’t see it.”

This puzzled them, which was his aim.

“Right now!” he said again. “You need to understand that this kingdom is not like kingdoms of the past. It can be seen by some people, but not by others. It is invisible—yet you can see it if you change the way you look at things.”

He stopped and surveyed their faces across the breadth of the hillside.

“So I’m sure you want to know, What is it like, the Kingdom of Heaven? How can I learn to see it?”

No one stirred anymore. He had their complete attention.

A breeze from the sea caressed my face and I savored the view of the blue-gray mountains in the east, beyond Magdala.

“What is it like?” he repeated. “It is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of seeds. But when it falls on cultivated soil, it produces a large branch and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky.

“It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.

“It is like a woman who is carrying a jar filled with flour. While she was walking on the way, very distant from home, the handle of the jar broke and the flour leaked out on the path. But she did not know it; she had not noticed a problem. When she reached her house, she put the jar down on the floor and found it empty.”

Now, as I recount these parables so Rachel can write them down, I realize that what is lost is Yeshu’s deliberate manner of speaking. After each parable he stood for a few moments in silence. Because he did not go on, people were left to consider what he had just said. It occurred to them that what they at first took for a simple image was not. That caused them to turn the parables over in their minds. Without being aware, they were committing them to memory.

Later, while they were fishing or reaping or preparing a meal, the parables would come back to them. They would ask themselves, Why the mustard seed? It’s a pest. It takes over the field and chokes off the crop. And birds—birds are the enemies of farmers. They steal the seeds that have been sown and peck away at the ears of ripening corn. And leaven is a symbol of corruption, of lessening the purity of things, of raising up false pride. And why would the woman leaven so much flour? And the jar ends up empty. Is the Kingdom of God in all its glory to be symbolized by an empty jar?

Provoking them to think was exactly what Yeshu desired. To see in a new way, they first had to question.

After giving them time to dwell on the third parable he went on to say, “You may find it a challenge to change the way you see things. But this I promise you: the Kingdom of Heaven is worth the effort. And the Lord wants you to make the effort. He is waiting to reward you. Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

I found his public voice powerful, but at the same time soothing. He had carefully thought through what he wanted to say and there was a rhythm in his words that my ears found beautiful and reassuring.

I also felt what all the others felt who were listening to his sermon. No one we had ever heard spoke this way. These teachings of his did not come from the Book. Nor did he wear the finery of some wise and learned Sadducee. He dressed like a poor man, a fisherman or a farmer. He had come forward out of our midst, one of us. He looked and sounded like us. Yet he spoke with the authority of a prophet and knew the Lord of all creation as Abba. Like everyone else, I felt a chill in my spine.

“Yes,” he went on, “I assure you that the Kingdom of Heaven is worth your effort.

“What is it like? Think of it as like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Think of it as like a merchant with goods to sell who found a pearl. The merchant was thoughtful. He sold the merchandise and bought himself the pearl.”

Again he waited while the people considered what he had said.

“Now I have one more thought I would like to share with you—one more insight into the kingdom. If you have two ears, listen. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”

Yeshu paused, turning his head to gaze across the sea for a moment, in no hurry. Every listener had made that walk down to Jericho. In Yeshu’s hesitation, they had time to call to mind the dusty, winding road amid the arid hills. They could well have been that man attacked by thieves and left for dead. They, too, might have been ignored by the priest and the Levite. The person appeared dead, and the Law stated that whoever came in contact with him must undergo purification rites. But this unfortunate man was not dead. Only helpless. Who would finally come to his aid?

Yeshu at last resumed speaking. “But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ ”

Again he waited for them to ponder his words. I heard some of them muttering. A Samaritan? A heretic? That can’t be the end of the story, can it? What does this strange teacher mean?

I, of course, thought back to his encounter with the friendly woman at the well in Sychar.

“I will be here for a few days,” Yeshu said. “I will be among you healing. But I want you to know that I am not here only to heal. I’m here to show you how to change the way you look at things. Now, let us all pray.”

He bowed his head and closed his eyes and so did we all.

“Abba, Satan may rule this world, but we all know that his time is coming to an end. He will use all of his powers to prevent the coming of your kingdom, but in the end his power is no match for yours. Amen, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

With that he ended the teaching—a short teaching, but one that left everyone much to digest.

Afterward he spoke with some of the people who crowded around him. Then he led us all into town. Immediately upon his arrival at Kefa’s house, the sick began to show up at the door. He healed people for the rest of that day.

In the morning, after his time for solitude, a large crowd awaited him. Word had spread to nearby villages that the wonder-worker had returned to Kapharnahum. Even more people began to arrive, asking for him, pressing against each other and standing on barrels and railings and climbing trees in order to see above the heads of others. So many people wanted to watch him at work that finally Kefa and Andreas could not control them and they crowded into the house. Soon there was no room to move inside or outside the house and we found it difficult to guide the sick in to meet him.

Then a strange thing happened. We heard commotion above our heads. Someone upon the roof seemed to be wrestling with timbers and breaking through thatch. We started to see sunlight break into the room. Then the heads and shoulders of men. Then the corner of a mat.

Four men had such great sympathy and love for the youth on the mat that they refused to allow him to miss this chance to be healed. They knew the wonder-worker was inside and they were determined to bring the youth into his presence.

They lowered him into our midst. He could not walk.

Their faith and determination and love so touched Yeshu that he immediately said to the youth, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Some of the people who had come to watch Yeshu at work that day were scholars who missed seeing him on his first visit and had heard tales of him ever since. Being trained in the Law, they held a different view of him than those who simply hungered to be healed. Yeshu saw them glance at each other when he forgave the youth’s sins and he imagined their thoughts. “Why does this fellow speak in this way?” they were wondering. “It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Yeshu looked at them while he probed the youth’s infirmity. “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?” he asked. “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’?”

He then looked straight into the youth’s eyes and said, “Do you believe with all your heart?”

“Yes,” said the youth.

“I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” While everyone in the room watched in astonishment, the boy rose to his feet. He began to walk stiffly around the room. Someone cried, “We have never seen anything like this!”

As they watched the boy take his mat and walk toward the doorway, the amazed scholars had no more to say.

Shortly after that they watched Yeshu drive a demon out of a man. When the man left calmly after coming into the room raving, Yeshu said, “Satan’s kingdom will fall when we take away his citizens. Step by step we bind him, one sinner at a time.”

He healed people until late that night.

When the morning came he went away to pray all alone, having told Kefa to have everyone who wanted to hear him gather again on the hillside at the edge of town. When he returned, a throng of people waited for him. All of them hushed into silence when he took his place at the base of the slope.

“I told you when I came,” Yeshu said, “that I was here not only to heal but to change the way you look at things. I have healed many of you, but I’m not so sure that many of you have changed. I have some things to tell you, and if you want your part in the Kingdom of God you will listen with both ears.”

I recall that he first turned toward the sea and closed his eyes, taking a moment to prepare the story in his own mind.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”

As happened most of the time when Yeshu told a parable, the crowd appeared confused. I heard murmurs. The prodigal son had no right to his portion—it was unthinkable to ask for it before his father’s death. The older son was a proper son, justified in feeling slighted when his younger brother was shown greater consideration. Besides, as the oldest, it was his inheritance the father had given away.

Yeshu finally went on by way of explanation, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ ”

This went far toward helping them understand. Then he continued, “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ ”

Yeshu gazed at the faces in the crowd. “Which of you has known a prodigal son? Would you forgive him if it meant bringing a family together? Which of you is a prodigal son yourself in the eyes of the Lord? Wouldn’t you be comforted to know that he is waiting to welcome you back?

“I want you to think about something. You see the sliver in your friend’s eye, but do not see the log that is in your own eye. Remove the log from your own eye, and then you can clearly see to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”

With that he ended the short sermon and closed with a prayer. The crowd swarmed down the hillside to speak with him, completely surrounding him. He answered questions for awhile and then began to make his way into town to heal those who needed him.

Yeshu spent another day the same as the day before, unable to pause to eat because so many people came to him to be healed. I brought some bread and a piece of fruit and set them beside him. He thanked me, but when I came back later they were there untouched. I finally picked up the fruit and held it near his face. “Can I tempt you?”

He looked up, amused. He ate a few bites while I held it in my fingers and never ceased working.

The next morning he rose while it was still dark and went away as was his custom to an isolated place to pray. When the crowd began to gather, Kefa and Andreas and Yeshu’s brother Yacob hunted him down. They told him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

He replied, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.” He told Andreas to come back and tell the rest of us to remain behind for a few days while he visited Korazin and Kinnereth to teach and heal. Then he came back through Kapharnahum for one night before proceeding eastward to Bethsaida.

We discussed his restlessness, thinking how much simpler it would be to remain in one town and allow everyone to know where to find him. I considered that he might simply have a nomadic spirit. But that night in Kapharnahum we had some time alone and he explained. Partly, he said, he thought it best to remain elusive in the eyes of Herodes’ spies. Partly he wanted to reach out to as many people as possible in the short time remaining. But mainly he had a new vision of how to stir people. He wanted to lead them not from above but as their equal, not as a master but as a servant. By staying in one place and requiring everyone to come to him, he would always be putting himself above them in their minds. By coming to them and entering their villages and their houses, he would be seen as a friend, someone just like them.

Yet he was not like them. The next day he took a step that completely set him apart from all other men.

Yeshu was approached by a leper. He knew the man was a leper because he followed the rules written down in Leviticus. His hair was disheveled, his clothes were torn, and he covered his upper lip and called out to others, “Unclean!  Unclean!” His approach caused the disciples to step back, but Yeshu held his ground.

The leper kneeled down near Yeshu. “If you choose,” he said, “you can make me clean.”

I saw Yeshu stiffen with anger. Was the man expressing doubt about his willingness or his ability to help? Yeshu defied custom by stepping closer to him. Then, as we all held our breath, as we all stood struck with astonishment, he stretched out his hand toward the man.

He touched him!

“I do choose,” he said. “Be made clean!” The man had not felt the touch of a clean person for so many years that he reacted with a profound sob. Then he wept. While we watched, amazed, the marks on his neck and face grew fainter.

Yeshu warned him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moshe commanded, as a testimony to them.”

In his boundless happiness, the man could not restrain himself. That very day he began to tell everyone he met how Yeshu had cured him with a touch and restored his life to him. Not long after that, Yeshu found it difficult to go into towns on that coast because of the crowds that mobbed him. He had to camp in the countryside and let the townspeople come out to see him.

Yeshu understood that his mission was to bring as many people as possible into the Kingdom of God, and of course that meant redeeming sinners. As his reputation as a healer and holy man and teacher grew, many people with heavy hearts came out to see him, searching for redemption from their sins. Mattiya knew many of them from his days as a toll collector in Bethsaida. He invited some to meet Yeshu at a dinner in a small house he still owned there.

Scribes who lived in Bethsaida were also interested in meeting this wonder-worker, this man of God who had come to Galilee. At Yeshu’s suggestion, Mattiya invited them, too. But when the time for dinner came and everyone reclined around the table, these men were appalled to find themselves elbow to elbow with sinners. Worse, as Yeshu made a point to retell the parable of the Prodigal Son and how the Lord especially loved those of his sheep who had strayed away, the people naturally drew nearer to him. This offended the scribes, one of whom shook his head and muttered to his friend, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Yeshu overheard them. He responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

The scribes sat perplexed, but I understood him. On the evening we had talked about his restlessness, Yeshu had told me how satisfying it was to him to reclaim sinners for the kingdom. The repentance of a good man was a good thing, but what was it compared with reclaiming those who were completely lost to God? That was why the Lord had chosen him, wasn’t it? To serve as the shepherd who went out to find and bring back the lost sheep? They were the key to completing his mission. More than once he said, “Show me the stone that the builders have rejected. It is the cornerstone.”

He also hoped the scribes would come around to his new way of seeing. Their chief concern was purity—an endless quest which would forever be tainted by mingling with sinners and the unclean. But shouldn’t their chief concern rather be the same as the Lord’s?—compassion for their fellow men?

The next day Yeshu announced that he wanted to go up to Jerusalem for the feast of the Dedication. Because of the cold weather, he preferred that most of the group wait for him in Kapharnahum and that only a few disciples accompany him. I of course wanted to go with him, to be with him, but no women made the journey. He took only Kefa and the sons of Zebedee, his brothers Thaddaios and Shimon, and Philippos and Nathanael. From Nathanael I later learned how Yeshu had offended some priests by healing a crippled man on the Sabbath. He found him at the Bethzatha pool, a man crippled for thirty-eight years, and healed him.

And the priests there resented him!



180    This time listeners filled the slope. — TJS, Mark 1:28.

180    Yeshu had made a decision in Cana, — According to John 3:22, Jesus and his disciples baptized in Judea. But there is no record of further baptismal activity after his return to Galilee.

180    Yeshu stood completely alone in the way he used parables. — Grant, Jesus, 90.

181    “Congratulations, you poor! — TJS, Luke 6:20-21. (TJS) This vestige of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Luke’s Sermon on the Plain) is the part The Jesus Seminar considered possibly authentic. It is worth noting that the only other source that strings beatitudes together in a series is Dead Sea Scrolls document 4Q525. Jesus might have read this when/if he lived among the Essenes. (Or perhaps the gospel writers were aware of it and used it as a model for a sermon by Jesus.) See Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins, 34-35.

181    it will not come by watching for it. — TJS, Thomas 113:1-4. (TJS)

181    It is like a mustard seed.  — TJS, Thomas 20:2-4. (FG)

182    It is like yeast that a woman took — TJS, Luke 13:21. (NRSV)

182    It is like a woman who is carrying a jar — TJS, Thomas 97:1-4. (FG)

183    Ask, and it will be given to you; — TJS, Matthew 7:7-8. (NRSV)

183    as like treasure hidden in a field: — TJS, Matthew 13:44. (NRSV)

184    like a merchant with goods to sell who found a pearl — TJS, Thomas 76:1-2. (GOT)

184    A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, — TJS, Luke 10:30-35. (NRSV)

185    Abba, Satan may rule this world—but we all know — Schonfield, After the Cross, 106. “Jesus accepted the Essene position that his time was the climax of the Ages and the hardest time for Israel, since Satan now was using all his powers to lead God’s people astray to prevent the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Satan (Belial) was the ruler of this world (compare Luke 4:5-6); the heathen kings and corrupt Jewish hierarchy were his minions. … The initial function of the Messiah, therefore, was to rescue his people from the dominion of the Evil One by calling them to repentance and casting out demons, so that redeemed Israel might become the saviour of the gentiles (‘salvation is of the Jews,’ John 4:22).”

185    Amen, let your will be done — One of Jesus’ idiosyncracies was his use of “Amen” at the beginning of a sentence instead of the end. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, 36, refers to this as an authorative manner that suggests Jesus perceived himself as not simply reciting but “speaking ‘from the mouth of the Spirit.’ ”

186    Then a strange thing happened. — TJS, Mark 2:1-12. (NRSV)

188    “There was a man who had two sons. — TJS, Luke 15:11-32. (NRSV)

189    “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep — TJS, Luke 15:4-6. (NRSV)

190    “Or what woman having ten silver coins, — TJS, Luke 15:8-9. (NRSV)

190    You see the splinter in your friend’s eye, — TJS, Thomas 26:1-2. (GOT)

190    “Everyone is searching for you.” — TJS, Mark 1:35-39. (NRSV)

191    he had a new vision of how to stir people. — Crossan, The Historical Jesus, 346-349. Crossan’s view is that Jesus wanted to subvert the brokered approach to social interactions in favor of egalitarian behavior.

192    Yeshu was approached by a leper. — TJS, Mark 1:40-45. (NRSV)

192    the rules written down in Leviticus. — Leviticus 13:45.

192    I saw Yeshu stiffen with anger. — Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 133-139. Ehrman argues—persuasively in my view—that Mark originally portrayed Jesus as angered by the leper’s request. Probably uncomfortable with that portrayal, both Matthew and Luke omitted the word, and later copyists of Mark changed “becoming angry” to “feeling compassion.”

193    Mattiya knew many of them from his days as a toll collector — Collectors of taxes and tolls were ranked as sinners by the pious because “they could not help mixing with ritually unclean persons, so that it was impossible for them to keep the Law.” Grant, Jesus, 55.

193    but when the evening of the dinner came and everyone reclined (And following) — TJS, Mark 2:15-17. (NRSV)

193    but what was it compared with reclaiming — Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 233-234.

194    “Show me the stone that the builders have rejected. — Thomas 66. (FG)

194    the same as the Lord’s?—compassion for their fellow men?  — Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, 53-54.

194    the feast of the Dedication — John 5:1. John only refers to “a festival of the Jews.” I make it the feast of the Dedication—Hanukkah—which takes place in December.

194    by healing a crippled man on the Sabbath. — TJS, John 5:2-18.




13               Raising the dead, and resentment in Nazareth.


Upon Yeshu’s return from Jerusalem, word spread and he found himself mobbed wherever he went. The sick would surround him every day and deprive the other people of the chance to hear him speak. There were also some who seemed to have no work or homes, who were so fascinated by him that they could not leave him in peace, whether he was trying to heal someone or eat or simply rest in the evening. They finally made themselves annoying by their presence. One day, when Yeshu tried to slip away from them and strike out alone to find a place to rest undisturbed, I heard one man call out, “I’ll follow you wherever you go.”

Yeshu said back to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but this mother’s son has nowhere to lay his head.”

To avoid the clamoring crowds he conceived the idea of preaching from a small boat anchored near the shore. After his sermon he could simply sail away to another place to spend the night in peace.

It was from a boat that he first told the parable of the sower and the seed. “Listen!” he called out across the water. “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

Another parable he told was this: “When you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

 Those of us who traveled with Yeshu and spoke with him daily began to see the world through his eyes. For us, his parables were like veils and we could see through to the point he wanted to make. Once you perceived that the judge was the Lord, that you were about to be called before him to account, wasn’t it wiser to forgive your earthly opponent and even let him win a dispute rather than have the king of heaven and earth decide and possibly find you at fault? (I should say that most of us understood Yeshu. Sometimes his disciples seemed scarcely better at grasping his meaning than the crowds.)

He would also say, “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” Or he would say, “The kingdom of the Father is like a person who wanted to kill a powerful person. He drew the sword in his house and stabbed it into the wall to test whether his hand would be strong enough. Then he killed the powerful one.” To us—to me, at least—he was referring to the binding of Satan. This mission to Galilee was the first step, to begin to show how final victory over the Prince of Evil could be achieved. The Lord, working through Yeshu, would eliminate Satan’s minions and proceed, step by step, toward prying his tight grip from the world.

However, those who did not travel with Yeshu and speak with him daily found it more difficult to pierce the veil. Was he speaking of defeating the Romans, being careful not to say so openly to avoid arrest? Or could the powerful man he planned to kill be Herodes Antipas? I understood why many tried to interpret him in that way. In fact, I knew enough of the thinking of Thaddaios and Shimon and the Sons of the Storm-Wind to know that they took encouragement from such parables. For them, these were hints that Yeshu secretly planned an uprising to match that of Yehuda the Galilean.

Weary of coping with the throngs who gathered to see him, Yeshu made a decision to identify his chief disciples—so that the people would not have to approach him personally for every little thing; and so that he could begin to instruct his chosen few on how to act in his name.

He went up a mountain one morning and called them to come one by one. He informed them of their special mission to assist him and to serve as his envoys. He chose twelve—the number of the tribes of Israel—all of whom had been with him from the beginning. All were Galilean except for Yehuda of Kerioth. Yehuda should have felt special pride in being selected—and he did at the time, in his own fragile way. His manner of speech had altered over the months from being in the midst of so many Galileans, but he never sounded truly and purely of the north and the others would often tease him about the differences. Being included by Yeshu in his closest circle helped Yehuda to feel less of an outsider. 

Besides Yehuda, Yeshu named Kefa and his brother Andreas, Yacob and Yukhanan the sons of Zebedee, Philippos, Nathanael, Mattiya, Thomas, and of course his brothers Yacob, Thaddaios, and Shimon. At this time he had confided to no one, other than to me, his belief that he was the Lord’s anointed. Yet all of the twelve were convinced of it in their hearts or they would not have set aside their own lives to follow him and help pursue his mission. They understood the unspoken covenant—their loyalty and sacrifice now would be rewarded in the new kingdom. Though they might have been born poor, and though for the moment they might live humbly, one day soon they would be elevated above the world’s rulers. When the Day of the Lord came they would be the judges of the nation, respected and powerful among men. They counted on Yeshu’s promise: “The last will be first, and the first will be last.”

That year I witnessed the flowering of Yeshu. He was in full command of his powers and confident in his mission, received by the people with acclaim and feeling the eyes of the Lord upon his every deed. Every week the Lord delayed the start of the new age Yeshu saw as an opportunity to recover more lost sheep.

For me, however, the year was bittersweet. In Judea, Yeshu had time to be alone with me. He could share some of his burden and I gained clues to his inner thoughts. Now he belonged to the people and events raced along of their own accord. When he wasn’t healing the sick or speaking to the crowds he was planning his next move or teaching his disciples. Sometimes I found myself nearby during those private instructions and sometimes he would invite me to be there. At other times I would be away serving as a messenger or helping the other women prepare food or trying to locate someone for him.

Though the Passover festival was near, Yeshu had a sudden desire to visit the country of the Gadarenes on other side of the sea. I had no chance to speak with him alone to ask him why. He took with him only Kefa, Philippos and Andreas. He directed the sons of Zebedee to lead whoever of the rest wanted to go up to Jerusalem for the festival and return at its conclusion. There was a windstorm that evening as Yeshu set off and I reluctantly stayed behind and began the journey to the Temple the next day.

Our visit to Jerusalem was unremarkable, except that we met several people who had heard Yeshu speaking at Solomon’s Portico during the Dedication festival. From them we learned that his deeds in Galilee were beginning to attract the attention of the common people of Jerusalem as well as the Temple authorities. From a distance, of course, they only knew that he was attracting crowds. They had no way to gauge the fire in the hearts of those crowds.

Yeshu sailed back from the Decapolis the day before we returned to Kapharnahum. As before, as soon as the people learned that he was back, they came to him in waves.

One who came was a leader of the synagogue by the name of Jairus. He had been a witness to Yeshu performing wonders of healing and now he approached him as a supplicant. His face betraying torment, Jairus put aside his own pride and dropped to his knees in front of Yeshu. “My little daughter is at the point of death,” he cried. “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

Yeshu did not hesitate. He encouraged Jairus to lead him to the place where his daughter was waiting. As they made their way through a crowd of others who had come to be healed, there occurred one of those incidents in which Yeshu set himself apart from all other men.

A woman trying to reach him through the crowd stumbled to her knees, but was able to touch the tassels of his tallit. The way he was being jostled, he should not have even noticed. However, something about her touch attracted his attention and he turned. The woman was well-known to some in the crowd, as was her sickness. For a dozen years she had suffered an unnatural flow of blood from her womb. Though she had been to see many physicians no one could heal her, and she lived in perpetual exile from the normal life of a woman, declared unclean according the Law written in Leviticus and treated as an outcast by all of those who knew her. Simply to touch any bed or chair she used rendered a person unclean in the eyes of the Lord, and meant that person had to bathe and wash his or her clothes and even so be counted as unclean for the remainder of the day. The poor woman’s horrible life differed little from that of a leper.

Under Yeshu’s sudden gaze she began to tremble, knowing that in touching him she had defiled him. Remaining on her knees she confessed the truth. She pleaded that she had acted out of desperation and that she so trusted in Yeshu’s healing power that she had felt that merely to touch him would end her long misery. Already she felt that power at work.

Any other holy man would have been upset with the woman for making him unclean. Some might have responded with harsh words. Yeshu revealed nothing but complete sympathy. “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

The awe that I had first felt when I watched Yeshu touch the leper came back suddenly to me. Was there any other man alive equal to him? The rules and boundaries that other people lived by seemed meaningless to him. He saw past them to the person in need. He saw men the way the Lord must. I was still turning this over in my mind, struck with admiration, when some people hurried up to us. “Your daughter is dead,” one of them said to Jairus. “Why trouble the teacher any further?”

Jairus stood unmoving, struck numb.

Yeshu immediately reassured him, “Do not fear, only believe.” He insisted on continuing to see the girl, but said that he wanted only Kefa and the sons of Zebedee to accompany him. Kefa later told me what happened. When they arrived at the house of Jairus, people were wailing. Yeshu went inside to see the girl. He observed her very closely for awhile and concluded that some illness had caused her to plunge into an unusually deep sleep, so that she did not appear to breathe. Then he said out loud, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.”

Those gathered there met his comment with scorn. He chased them out of the home and brought in only his three disciples and Jairus and his wife. Then he took the girl’s hand. He said to her in Aramaic, “Talitha qum”—that is to say, “Little lamb, arise.”

To the astonishment of her parents the girl awoke immediately, got up from the bed, and started walking around. Yeshu told them to give her something to eat and departed from the man’s house to great acclaim. Word went out that, like the great Elijah, Yeshu had raised someone from the dead.

Not long after this event Yeshu felt the need to move to another area to preach. He decided to go back to his hometown of Nazareth.

Once he had decided we always moved quickly. We left the next morning and arrived in the evening after the long walk from Kapharnahum. The following morning Yeshu took me around the small town, introducing me to relatives and neighbors and sharing some of his memories of growing up there. I welcomed the time with him, since for the most part it was just the two of us or we were accompanied only by one or two of the twelve. His mother and brothers and sisters spent the day visiting with their own friends, whom they had not seen in over a year, and his curious disciples wanted to accompany his brothers in order to meet the people who had known Yeshu when he was growing up.

Nazareth was such a small village that we could stroll from one end to the other in minutes. The houses were simple and the people lived humbly. I recalled Nathanael’s comment about the more intelligent goats trying to escape and repeated his words to Yeshu.

Yeshu laughed.

Naturally he was the main point of conversation for everyone that day. News of his successes along the coast of the Sea of Galilee had traveled to Nazareth and the townspeople were eager to hear more from those who traveled with him and knew him well.

What no one foresaw was their firm disbelief. Those who had known Yeshu as a youth and had seen no glimmer of his healing skills found it easy to dismiss reports of his success along the coast as gullibility by those not from the country. Before he went away to live with the Essenes they had known him only as a common, if very intelligent, craftsman. Now the memories of the locals did not match the man he had become.

The second day of our visit to Nazareth was Shabbat. The whole town attempted to crowd into the large house that served as a synagogue, since everyone knew that Yeshu would make it a point to speak. All recalled his previous visit, when he shocked those present by saying of the passage from Isaiah, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” For Yeshu it had been a treasured moment, a declaration, a guarded but open admission of his calling. He did not realize the local hostility his comment had provoked after his departure for Kapharnahum. His old neighbors were not pleased but affronted, saying, “This is the lad who grew up among us, who fetched water and skinned his elbows and knees, and he goes away for a few years and now sees himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy? What happened to him?”

Later, when they first heard of the stir he caused by his healing, they were astounded, but could not accept it. “Where does he get all this?” they said among themselves. “What is this wisdom that he has been given—and what about these marvelous things he can do? He’s only a carpenter, Mary’s son, the brother of Yacob, Yoseh, Yehuda and Shimon; and his sisters are living here with us!” Instead of being proud of him, they resented him for pretending to be special. They held him in their minds as the youth they recalled seeing on the streets of Nazareth.

When Yeshu tried to preach that day the way he had in the other synagogues, he was thus surprised to be greeted by cold stares, not only by his former neighbors but by his cousins who still lived in Nazareth. When afterward he stopped outside and asked if anyone needed to be healed, few came forward. Those who did come did not show the remarkable cures we had witnessed in other towns. Some on whom he laid his hands said they felt better, but there were no lame who suddenly walked, no withered limbs that suddenly responded. The worst afflicted showed no response to his efforts.

When the last left, I saw that Yeshu was dejected. He said with some bitterness, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

I tried to console him. I reminded him of what he had said in Judea—that their faith had not been sufficient.

“Yes,” he said, “it is not enough that the Lord is ready to heal them and that I know full well they can be healed. Those afflicted must have faith that they will be healed. Those who do not expect the Lord’s gift are unable to receive it.”

No longer comfortable in his own country, he decided that we would leave the next morning.




197    “I’ll follow you wherever you go.” — TJS, Luke 9:57-58. (TJS)

197    he conceived the idea of preaching from a small boat — TJS, Mark 4:1.

197    “Listen! A sower went out to sow. — TJS, Mark 4:3-8. (NRSV)

198    “When you go with your accuser before a magistrate, — TJS, Luke 12:58-59. (NRSV)

198    Sometimes his disciples seemed scarcely better — The Fellows of The Jesus Seminar rejected the idea that Jesus privately interpreted for his disciples the parables he spoke in public. See Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 96.

198    “No one can enter a strong man’s house — TJS, Mark 3:27. (NRSV) 

198    “The kingdom of the Father is like a person — TJS, Thomas 98:1-3. (FG)

199    He went up a mountain one morning and called them — Mark 3:13-19.

199    He chose twelve—the number of the tribes of Israel — The Fellows of The Jesus Seminar doubted that Jesus named twelve disciples as his official inner circle. This number matched the number of the tribes of Israel and therefore too conveniently symbolized a “new” Israel. (See Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 86.) In the absence of further information I follow the texts themselves, since that very fact seems to me to suggest that Jesus would choose that particular number.

200    and of course his brothers — While the conclusion is not widely accepted, textual evidence remains that Jesus’ brothers were counted among “the twelve.” John 7:3-4 portray Jesus’ brothers as his close companions—despite the parenthetical put-down in verse 5, which has the look of being added by a redactor. According to The Gospel of the Hebrews (See Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 16), James—referred to by Jesus as “My brother”—took part in the Last Supper. Why would he be there if he were not one of the twelve? Paul, in Galatians 1:19, refers to James “the Lord’s brother” as an apostle, like Peter. Also, Ephraem (306?-373?) identifies the apostles Judas of James and Simon the Zealot with Jesus’ brothers Juda and Simon. (See Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus, 33, note 102.) It strains credulity that his brothers would accompany Jesus and not be part of his inner circle, and it would be a remarkable coincidence if he had three apostles with the same names as his brothers who were always grouped together when his apostles were listed. (Compare the final names at Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; and Acts 1:13. Note: Judas of James was apparently nicknamed “Thaddeus.”)  As for the fourth brother, Joses, he might have been precluded from being in the twelve for some reason such as a mental defect. 

200    “The last will be first, and the first will be last.” — TJS, Matt 20:16. (NRSV)

201    Though the Passover festival was near, — John 6:4.

201    a sudden desire to visit the country of the Gadarenes — Matthew 8:28, Mark 5:1. The cure of the demoniacs of Gadara (Mark says a demoniac of Gerasa) would have occurred at this point in the story. However, The Jesus Seminar concluded that while some sort of exorcism may possibly have taken place here, the story as described is not historical. (See Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 78-79.)

201    There was a windstorm that evening — Mark 4:37. The Fellows of The Jesus Seminar were unanimous in judging that Jesus’ stilling of the storm was not a historical event. (See Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 77.) Further, two other famous “miracles” from this journey—the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking upon the water of the Sea of Galilee—were also deemed unhistorical. See pages 91 and 93, respectively. For a discussion of the latter see Crossan, The Historical Jesus, 405-406, who points out that the Greek word epi, translated “on the sea” in John 6:19, is translated “by the sea” in John 21:1. E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 156-157, also casts doubt on these miracles. If five thousand men, plus uncounted women and children, experienced being fed by only a few loaves and fishes, why didn’t more people believe in Jesus and his mission? At his death, he had only a few hundred followers. (See Acts 1:15 and 1 Corinthians 15:6.)

201    Yeshu sailed back from the Decapolis. — Gadara was one of the ten Greek-speaking towns that comprised the Decapolis. Gadara was located six miles from the southeastern coast of the Sea of Galilee.

201    “My little daughter is at the point of death,” — TJS, Mark 5:23. (NRSV)

202    stumbled to her knees, but was able to touch the tassels of his tallit. — Matthew 9:20. See notes to Chapter 12 regarding the prayer shawl and tassels. 

202    according to the Law written in Leviticus. — Lev. 15:19-24.

203    Was there any other man alive equal to him? — John Shelby Spong writes, “That was, I submit, why people came to believe that in Jesus something more than humanity was present. They had never confronted this kind of humanity.” Jesus for the Non-Religious, 271. Regarding meaningless rules and boundaries, see 270.

203    “Your daughter is dead,” — TJS, Mark 5:35-42. (NRSV)

203    “Talitha qum”—That is to say, “Little lamb, arise.” — TJS, Mark 5:41. (Translation Geza Vermes, Christian Beginnings, 34.)

205    “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” — Luke 4:21. (KJV)

205    “Where does he get all this?” — TJS, Mark 6:2-3. (JBP)

206    there were no lame who suddenly walked, — TJS, Mark 6:5.

206    “Prophets are not without honor, — TJS, Mark 6:4. (NRSV)

206    Those who do not expect the Lord’s gift are unable to receive it.” — “From today’s perspective, Jesus’ cures are related to psychosomatic maladies.” Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 531. The inability of Jesus to perform feats of healing in Nazareth suggests that many of the “cures” he performed elsewhere originated in the minds of those being healed, whether that be characterized as placebo effect, spontaneous remission, positive psychology, etc.


14               Encounters with Pharisees.


The townsfolk of Kapharnahum welcomed us back and immediately word went out to the neighboring villages that the great healer had returned. This we expected. Something we did not expect was to find Yoanna waiting for us. She had ridden there from the palace once before in a horse-drawn cart, but it was the very day we had departed for Nazareth. No one could tell her when we might return, since that depended on Yeshu’s whims, so she had made the ride again in hopes of finding us and chanced to visit on the right day. She came in the company of her servant Timotheos, whom she sent away to take care of the horse while we all exchanged greetings.

As we moved in a group toward Kefa’s house, she said excitedly to Yeshu, “I’m so happy to find you here. We need to talk. When I came last week, Manaen rode with me. He insisted on coming and I didn’t know how to warn you in advance.”

“Who is Manaen?” Yeshu asked.

“The foster brother of Antipas. They were raised together. He knows that you healed me and he insisted because he greatly wants to meet you and see you at work. But I don’t know his true feelings. I must assume that he is loyal to Antipas, so I’ve always been careful what I say about you.”

“He’s not here this time?” Yeshu asked.

“He had to visit Gadara. I saw it as my chance to come here without him.”

“So what do you want to tell me about him?”

“No, I come with other news. Chouzas has been living in Machaerus with Herodes. Herodes sometimes sends him on missions to Jerusalem, and after his last visit there Chouzas sent word to me that Kayafa has expressed interest in you. He plans to send down some scholars to observe you and report back to him.”

“Does Chouzas think he means to arrest me?”

“For now it sounds like caution. Kayafa wants his eyes and ears to know everything.”

“Who are they to judge you!” a voice cried out. Yehuda of Kerioth had found it impossible to remain quiet.

Shimon the Zealot joined in, “Yes! You’re here doing the Lord’s work while Kayafa and his priests sit in their fine robes in Jerusalem.”

Yehuda added, “Living off the tithes of the poor!”

Yeshu asked, “When are these men coming?”

“I don’t know. Soon.”

“Do they respect Hillel or Shammai?”

“I don’t know.”

Yehuda said, “If Kayafa chooses them, I’ll wager Shammai.”

Now the Pharisees were unlike the Essenes, most of who had given up trying to persuade the common people to live in compliance with Torah and had withdrawn into their own communities in the wilderness. The Pharisees felt a duty to go out among the circumcised and promote obedience to the Law by everyone. They thought that all should have the opportunity to gain favor in the Lord’s eyes. But some of the Pharisees favored the thinking of Shammai, while others favored the thinking of the great Hillel. Both men had presided over the Sanhedrin. However, Shammai believed the Law was the Law and saw no need to be tolerant, while Hillel balanced his love for the Law with sympathy for men and the necessities of life.

Yehuda proved correct. The men who came about a week later were followers of Shammai and they had an immediate dislike of Yeshu. For them, the startling breadth of vision that inspired his disciples and fueled his popularity among the Galileans meant that he set a terrible example as a man of the Lord. I hurry to say that as a rule the Pharisees were not harsh or evil men. They were pious and educated and esteemed by the people. It was mainly in their desire to put a hedge around the Law—to make sure there was no infringement by always going a little further—that they exceeded the bounds of common comfort.

The two young men from Jerusalem followed Yeshu around for a few days and watched him heal and teach. They learned that his disciples never observed a day of fasting. Finally one of them asked him, “Why do Yochanan’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

Yeshu had a way of replying to straightforward questions from an unexpected direction. “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.”

His response puzzled them as much as the parables they had heard him speak. One of them asked him if he would be clearer in his response. Yeshu said, to the amusement of the townsfolk who overheard the conversation, “There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, nor hid that shall not be known.”

They could not decide if they were being made fools, or he was a teacher of such wisdom that they were unable to grasp his meaning.

The scholars also could not abide the informality of Yeshu’s Galilean disciples. Pharisees would not think of eating without first washing their hands in a particular way, always observing the tradition of the elders, and they cherished a strict code of washing the cups and jugs and kettles they used. When they saw the disciples of Yeshu eating with defiled hands, that is to say, without washing them, they challenged him: “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

Instead of responding directly to them, Yeshu addressed the crowd who overheard this challenge. “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” He went on to say, “Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Do you not understand that the one who created the inside is also the one who created the outside?”

Thus he dealt with the scholars sent by Kayafa, and they soon returned to Jerusalem to report. Later, after the festival of Weeks, Kayafa would send more experienced scribes, but we did not anticipate that at the time. For the moment we all marveled at how easily our rough Galilean rabbi parried the questions of learned men from the Temple.

About this time I noticed Yeshu more frequently using the expression “Son of Man” in ways that seemed to refer to himself. It flowed naturally when he said it and yet struck me as odd when I thought of it at other times. Too timid to ask him about it directly I questioned Nathanael about it during our walk up to Jerusalem for the festival.

“I find it unusual myself,” he said. “Daniel used the phrase in his prophecies when he spoke of the end of the age. He said ‘one like a Son of Man’ would come down from the clouds bringing the Lord’s kingdom and glory, and he would judge the nations. But Daniel had just finished talking about earlier stages, where he described strange creatures. He appeared to be making the point that this one would have human features.”

“Do you think—?” Even though I had come to know Nathanael’s heart very well, I knew that he was reluctant to speak about the subject. But I went on with my question, “Do you think it is a way to suggest that he is the anointed without making a formal announcement?”

I waited patiently until at last he responded. “Of course he has to be concerned that he might end up in chains like Yochanan. But we should consider that, in fact, the phrase simply means ‘a man.’ Yeshu loves to use poetic language. It could be humility, and he only means to say something like, ‘This mother’s son.’ ”

“You like to deceive yourselves, don’t you?” Shimon the Zealot, unknown to us, had overheard our conversation from behind. He added, “Everything Yeshu does has a political purpose.”

I was annoyed that we had been overheard, and I was doubly annoyed that the person who overheard should be Shimon. I said, “Do you include healing the sick?”

Without a moment’s pause he said, “Every person he heals will be loyal to him when the time comes.”

He came up beside us. Nathanael confronted him, “The time for what? A rebellion?”

“In my mind he hasn’t yet decided on the proper course. He only knows that he must stir the people and gain their support.”

“It’s simple enough to ask him.”

“I have. You know he never reveals his thinking to anyone. But you also know the Romans won’t be driven away by a healer—even one who can cure lepers and cast out demons.”

“It will take the intervention of God,” Nathanael said. “That is why he waits. The Romans are too strong.”

“Too strong?” Shimon said. “What do they have?—a few thousand infantry? Perhaps one more legion they can bring from Syria? There are millions of us. They rule only because everyone accepts their rule.”

Nathanael said, “Farmers and fishermen and women and children—against highly trained killers? How many rug merchants and coppersmiths will risk being hacked to pieces or crucified? No, it will take the intervention of God. In my mind, Yeshu is waiting for that day and he knows it will arrive soon.”

“And when it does, he will rule as the ‘Son of Man.’ Don’t you recall that Daniel goes on to say, ‘And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him’?”

Ahead of us Maria and the sisters had paused to rest. As we approached them we all stopped speaking.

In Jerusalem I had the chance to ask Yeshu myself. I found one of those rare moments when I could speak with him alone and I resolved not to be timid.

On the second evening there he withdrew from us at the fire to gaze across the Kidron Valley at the Temple, marvelous in the moonlight. We had camped farther north along the mountainside than usual, next to an orchard of olive trees and a cave that sheltered a millstone and two presses for extracting oil from the olives. I saw him wander away into the trees and I found him leaning against the bluff next to the cave entrance, looking toward the Temple. The setting was very peaceful and as I approached him he stretched out his arm in a wordless invitation for me to nestle against him. I was happy to do so and for a moment I gazed contentedly at the Temple.

At last I said, “Yeshu, I have a question.”

“Go ahead.”

“Why do you use the words ‘Son of Man’ to refer to yourself?”

“It serves my purpose,” he said. “I’m glad you came, Mariamne. I need your company.”

He appeared melancholy and my question suddenly seemed petty. I said nothing but reached up and gently took hold of the hand he had placed on my shoulder. He seemed to want to tell me something, and the longer he stood there brooding in silence the more I thought he must be reconsidering whether to confide in me. Finally he said, “I’m failing.”

Nothing he could have said would have confused me more. “How can that be?” I asked, “—with all you are accomplishing?”

His gaze never left the Temple. “All I’ve done is no more than a pebble tossed into the sea.”

“You’ve prepared thousands for the kingdom.”

“They listen while I’m speaking. They’re grateful when I heal them. A month later many of them have slipped back into their old ways.”

“Few people have the courage to change their lives all at once.”

“They must.”

“They do remember your parables and think about them.”


“You are changing their hearts.”

“Mariamne, it has been more than a year since I was immersed in the Jordan by Yochanan. What is there to show for the effort? The mountain is still in front of me. Satan is still loose in the world. Antipas and Kayafa and Pilatos still rule. Yochanan remains in bondage and there seems to be nothing I can do.”

I could think of nothing to say.

“Why hasn’t the Lord come?” he said. Then, “I have the feeling I am disappointing him.”

“How could he expect more?” I said. “You wear yourself out tending to the crowds.”

“Yes, I wonder how wise that is.”


“I have been giving thought to that. I need to multiply myself.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’ll soon find out if I’ve chosen my disciples wisely.”

Kefa came toward us out of the darkness; I had to wait until we returned to Kapharnahum to learn what Yeshu meant.

First, however, he had to contend with the older and more experienced scholars Kayafa sent north to learn about him. They were more cautious than the first few, spending days speaking with the leaders of the synagogue and with the townsfolk about this unusual teacher and his scruffy band of disciples, inquiring about his sermons and deeds and habits.

They first confronted him on an early summer Shabbat. Yeshu was walking through a field of ripening grain and his hungry disciples began to strip heads of grain as they walked along. This violation offended the Pharisees and they called out to him: “See here, why are they doing what is not permitted on the Sabbath day?” Just like the scholars who preceded them from Jerusalem, they felt secure being tightly bound by the rules handed down by tradition. They failed to appreciate Yeshu’s liberating view, which took as its cornerstone the quality of human life. Why should people go hungry while walking through a field of food, simply to comply with some rigid interpretation of the Law? If the Lord provided the grain as food for his birds, would he refuse it to those made in his image?

Yeshu answered them by reminding them of what they knew but overlooked. “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” He added, with a thin smile, “Therefore the Son of Man is lord also of the Sabbath.”

Since they could not accept his point of view without admitting the error of their own, they remained offended. Indignant, they continued to follow him to the synagogue.

That day there was a man in attendance who had a crippled hand. He had heard of Yeshu’s great gift for healing and hoped to be cured. The Pharisees from Jerusalem noticed the man and watched to see whether Yeshu would violate the rules of Shabbat once more by healing him. If so, they would have another instance to report to Kayafa. Yeshu noticed them observing the man and conferring among themselves and fully understood their intentions.

After the service, when he was invited to speak, he called out to the man with the crippled hand. “Come forward.” Hoping to get the Pharisees to consider and take a position, Yeshu challenged them directly: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?”

They hesitated. Their instructions were to observe him and note infractions of the Law. Aware of his great intelligence, they worried that he might find in their words some justification for what he was about to do. Whispering among themselves they could not agree on what to say, and finally Yeshu grew irritated by their silence. “Stretch out your hand!” he said to the man.

The man held it out and immediately his hand was restored.

Of course the scholars were upset by this. For them there was nothing life-threatening in the man’s condition. Yeshu could simply have told the man to return to see him that evening, after Shabbat. They saw the healing as a deliberate violation of the Law. Because the Law itself was the boundary of their thinking, they could not understand that requiring the man to suffer for several more hours to comply with the rules was cruel. However, the heart of the matter was not their inability to see the cruelty; it was that Yeshu, in challenging mindless obedience to the rules, was challenging their authority.

This became clear to me after the service, when I overheard the Pharisees discussing the incident. They seemed ready, in view of his disregard for the rules, to judge him as yet another false prophet. But how could they be sure?

I was unaware that Yeshu, passing by, overheard them as well, until he interrupted their conversation with one of his characteristic responses: “You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?”

Those scholars, too, went back to Kayafa to report, no doubt just as mystified by Yeshu as the first few had been. Later in the summer Kayafa would send still more experts to investigate the strange Galilean who was generating controversy in the north. They would be more strident and more challenging, and their visit would come just before the true trials began.

In the midst of this, Yeshu acted on the plan to multiply himself.

He had been educating the disciples about his message and his healing methods. Now he called them together on a hillside overlooking the sea and told them they were to go out and act on his behalf throughout the region. He told them that he had been praying and he was convinced that time was short. “Truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes,” he said, this time clearly referring to the prophecy of Daniel. They all understood and felt the urgency. If the kingdom was about to arrive, they needed to act quickly.

He told them to travel in pairs. Because he wanted Yehuda of Kerioth to remain with him and keep the purse, Yeshu chose Matia, a follower who had been with him from the beginning, to take Yehuda’s place and accompany Yeshu’s brother Yacob. Yehuda would never challenge any decision the master made, but I could see the disappointment in his eyes.

Yeshu gave them specific instructions: “Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on the person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you.” He had always taught them not to be concerned—that if they did the Lord’s work the Lord would provide for them. He said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them! Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith?” He went on to say, “Are not five sparrows sold for two assars? Yet not one of them escapes God’s memory. The very hairs of your head are all counted. You have nothing to fear. You are of more consequence than many sparrows.”

The next morning, before they struck out on their separate paths, he called them together for a final word. Using his gift for imagery he assured them that were special among men and urged them not to lose that insight. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt were to lose it saltiness, what could restore its flavor? It would then be good for nothing except to be thrown out on the road.”

He gave them a blessing and reminded them that the eyes and ears of Herodes and Kayafa would be upon them. “Be as wise as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.”

Not long after they departed, I was in the market one morning when I saw two figures approaching along the southern road. Immediately my mind leaped back to the sight of the two strangers walking into our camp that afternoon in Zobah. I recalled that then Nathanael identified the taller of the two as Lazar, a close disciple of Yochanan’s. Now I recognized him as the taller of these two. Lazar recognized me as well and approached me. “Mariamne?”

“Yes. Peace be with you.”

“Peace be with you. Can you tell us where to find Yeshua?”

“I will take you there,” I said, and left off what I was doing and began to show them the way to Kefa’s house.

I could not read their expressions. “Is there news of Yochanan?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Lazar. “He sent us.”

“What news? Is he all right?”

“He’s still in prison,” Lazar said, “but he is bearing up well. He sent us with a message for Yeshua.”

“What message?”

“He said it was for Yeshua’s ears alone.”

After that we spoke only about their journey until we reached Kefa’s house.

Yeshu greeted them and welcomed them. When told that it was a private message from Yochanan, he directed them toward the door that led toward the beach. Lazar’s companion remained where he was. So did I, but Yeshu went out of his way to pass me and take me by the hand, drawing me outside with him.

Lazar gave me a sidelong glance as we walked. He said to Yeshu, “Yochanan insisted that the message was only for your ears.”

Yeshu reached up. I felt his fingertips brush my hair aside and touch mine. “These are my other ears,” he said.

Lazar did not smile.

We stopped on the sand near the lapping waves. Out on the sea two fishing boats were returning very late with their morning catch. There was no wind and the sun was beginning to warm the sand.

“Herodes continues to hold Yochanan,” Lazar said, “but from time to time we are allowed to visit with him.”

“Is he in good health?” Yeshu asked.

“So far. He benefits from leading an austere life.”

“What message did you bring?”   

“He has heard the stories of your success in Galilee—the wonders you are performing. He has sent me here to ask you one question and bring back your answer.”

“What question?”

“These are his words exactly: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ ”

I felt a prickle up my spine. Now I understood Yochanan’s insistence that only Yeshu hear the question and why Lazar wanted Yeshu to leave me behind. I knew the answer, but Lazar did not know that I knew. Beyond that, I wondered if Yeshu would reveal to Lazar what he would not even tell his own disciples.

Yeshu hesitated for only a moment, gazing at the two boats making their way back to shore. “Go and tell Yochanan what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”



210    Manaen — The foster brother of Herod Antipas, who eventually became an adherent of Jesus and taught in the fledgling church at Antioch. (See Acts 13:1.)

211    the Essenes, most of who had given up trying — Schonfield, The Passover Plot, 84, 91.

212    their desire to put a hedge around the Law — Grant, Jesus, 112-113.

212    “Why do Yochanan’s disciples — TJS, Mark 2:18-19. (NRSV)

213    “There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed — TJS, Luke 12:2. (KJV)

213    Pharisees would not think of eating — TJS, Mark 7:1-5. (NRSV)

213    “Listen to me, all of you, — TJS, Mark 7:14-15. (NRSV) Regarding the aside in verse 19, “(Thus he declared all foods clean),” Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 28-29, concludes that a redactor of Mark overreached in translation, thus creating the only doctrinal conflict between Jesus and Judaism. Consider: If Jesus really had declared all foods clean in front of the disciples, why would Peter react with shock in Acts 10:13 when a vision told him to eat prohibited foods? 

213    “Why do you wash the outside of the cup? — TJS, Thomas 89:1-2. (FG)

214    ‘one like a Son of Man’ — Daniel 7:13.

214    in fact the phrase simply means ‘a man.’ — Funk et al, The Five Gospels, 77.

214    ‘This mother’s son.’ — The Jesus Seminar translated the phrase “Son of Adam” in this way. (See Funk, The Gospel of Jesus according to the Jesus Seminar, 5.) In Jesus the Jew, Geza Vermes agrees with this connotation. After combing relevant literature (pages 160-177), he concludes that Jesus used Son of Man not as a title but as a circumlocution for “I.” (When appropriate, however—i.e., the coming of Daniel’s Son of Man—Jesus used it to reference Daniel 7.)

215    ‘And there was given him dominion, and glory, — Daniel 7:14. (KJV)

216    next to an orchard of olive trees and a cave — Gethsemane. “The Greek word Gethsemane comes from an Aramaic or Hebrew term that most likely means ‘oil press.’ ” Biblical Archaeology Society, Jesus: The Last Day, “Where Was Gethsemane?” Joan E. Taylor, 27. Taylor cites evidence that Gethsemane was not a garden but a “cultivated area” which included a cave where olive oil was extracted. The cave provided a natural shelter where Jesus and the disciples would rest after spending the day at the Temple.

218    “See here, why are they doing what is not permitted — TJS, Mark 2:23-24. (NRSV)

218    Yeshu’s liberating view, which took as its cornerstone — Spong, Jesus for the Non-Religious, 268.

218    “The Sabbath was made for man, — TJS, Mark 2:27-28. (KJV)

219    a man in attendance who had a crippled hand. — TJS, Mark 3:1-6. (NRSV)

220    Yeshu, in challenging mindless obedience to the rules, — Spong, Jesus for the Non-Religious, 269-270.

220    “You will know them by their fruits. — TJS, Matthew 7:16. (NRSV)

220    “Truly I tell you, you will not have gone — Matthew 10:23. (NRSV)

221    He told them to travel in pairs — TJS, Mark 6:7.

221    Matia — An invented reference. However, the Matthias/Matia chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot in the twelve was deemed eligible because he had been a disciple from the beginning. This Matthew was also called Levi son of Alpheus, as mentioned erroneously in Mark 2:14 and Luke 5:27. See Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures, 16. He may also be a relative of Jesus, as some scholars say that Alphaeus, Cleopas and Clopas are simply linguistic variations, and James the apostle is called “James the son of Alphaeus” in Matthew 10:3 and elsewhere. (See Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, 778, 840, 844.)

221    “Whenever you enter a house, first say, — TJS, Luke 10:5, 7, 8; Mark 6:10. ((NRSV)

221    “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, — TJS, Luke 12:22-28. (NRSV)

222    “Are not five sparrows sold for two assars? — TJS, Luke 12:6-7. (ONT) An assar was a small coin comparable to today’s penny. (See ONT, 163, Footnote 14)

222    “You are the salt of the earth, — TJS, Mark 9:50. The translation and interpretation come from Ron Miller, The Hidden Gospel of Matthew, 32.

222    “Be as wise as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” — TJS, Matthew 10:16. (JBP)

224    “Are you the one who is to come, — Matthew 11:3. (NRSV)  

224    “Go and tell Yochanan what you hear and see: — Matthew 11:4-5. (NRSV) Jesus’ reply to John’s inquiry appears to reference Isaiah 61, a passage describing the mission of a prophet anointed by God. However, Isaiah 61 does not mention raising the dead. By including this phrase among the other “signs,” Jesus echoes the language in a Dead Sea Scroll fragment often called the Messianic Apocalypse (4Q521). (See Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins, 36-38.) This further suggests that both Jesus and John had been Essenes, or at least were well acquainted with Essene literature.

224    the dead are raised, — I omit the second example of resuscitation from this period in Jesus’ mission—of the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17)—because scholars consider it an invention of Luke’s. The story appears in no other gospel, resembles an incident involving Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24), and is placed suspiciously just before the disciples of John arrive with his crucial query at Luke 7:19. (“Suspiciously” because Luke will not relate the story of Jairus’ daughter until later in his chronicle. Thus, Jesus’ response to John will not be true if no example has been given.) According to Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 288: “The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar were unanimous in their judgment that this story was the creation of Luke.”





15               A summer of conflict and anticipation.


Yeshu surely believed, on the morning he dispatched the twelve throughout the region, that the day of reckoning was near. Few days passed that summer that we did not expect to be startled from our work by a mighty flash from the sky.              

In my mind this certainty came from some secret communion between God and Yeshu when Yeshu went out each morning to pray. Because his chief disciples were no longer with us, I often accompanied him. We talked easily while we were walking, but I knew that as soon as he found a place for his morning prayer and started gazing at the sea I was to leave him in peace until he started moving again. I was awed by these hours of communion, and not simply because of the great strength Yeshu seemed to gain from them. To me, the Lord was speaking to him just as he spoke to Moshe, and it often raised the flesh on my arms to be so near the conversation.

Yeshu never revealed his private moments with the Lord, but so often afterward did he speak of certain prophesies of Isaiah and Daniel and Micah and how they might be interpreted that I came to believe that in some mysterious way the Lord was communicating with him about them. On our walks back to town he often recited the words slowly from memory, as though turning them over in his thoughts to unlock their hidden meaning. Sometimes I witnessed the kindling of an indescribable flame within him; he became so fixated that he lost awareness of me walking beside him. At such times, the Yeshu I knew vanished.

As the summer went on he became increasingly passionate about certain behavior, as much in his own actions as in his sermons. After he told the crowd that in God’s kingdom the last would be first, he would act on his own pronouncement. At dinner he would delay eating in order to serve others their food and drink. Twice he surprised and embarrassed me by serving me my meal and then, after dinner, assisting the women with cleaning the serving vessels. To those unsettled by this strange behavior he replied that those who wanted to be above in the new kingdom must choose now to be below. Any who would be masters must understand that they were also servants.

Many outside our group considered him mad because of his strange ways. Even those of us who believed in him and followed him felt awkward when he upset the accepted order. Little by little, however, we began to understand; the accepted order was merely customs frozen into place and made into invisible laws. In time these laws formed the bars of an invisible prison, a prison ordinary people did not think to challenge because they could not see it. It took someone extraordinary to see the bars and shine a light on them for others.

The women who followed Yeshu, especially, felt his liberating power. Who else was there like him? Who else treated us not as servants but as equals?

As the weeks passed and the great reckoning did not come, I noticed in him growing frustration. Part of this was due to the continuing criticism from the scribes sent by Kayafa. Yeshu could not ignore their challenges because the people had become accustomed to thinking of the Pharisees as the arbiters of God’s rules and his failure to respond would be seen as weakness. Yet he found in them a tiring mixture of pettiness and haughtiness.

He confronted them in his own way, in a parable during a sermon: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Knowing that the Pharisees were still listening, he added: “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

To me, the scribes seemed envious of Yeshu, unhappy to see him succeeding outside their own lines of authority. The Kingdom of God was dawning in front of their very eyes, but they could not believe it because it was not according to their expectations. They had been trained all of their lives to see the world from one viewpoint and now Yeshu insisted that they see it from another. Though frustrated by them, he understood their reluctance. He expressed it in a parable: “No person drinks old wine and immediately desires to drink new wine. And new wine is not put into old wineskins, so that they do not burst; nor is old wine put into a new wineskin, so that it does not spoil it.”

His relations with the Pharisees grew ever more strained as the summer passed. Their purpose was the same as Yeshu’s—to teach the common people. However, they could not abide the path he chose. They wanted to educate the ignorant about the proper way to observe the Law, pointing out whatever infractions they saw. The true sinners, though—those who lived outside the Law—they considered unworthy and hopeless.

Yeshu made it his mission to go after those lost sheep. A sinner had only to accept the call of Yochanan and Yeshu to be welcomed as a citizen of the new kingdom. I heard him once relate a parable aimed at the scribes and their fondness for exclusion, which he made sure to tell in their hearing. “Someone gave a great dinner,” he said, “and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.’ ”

I don’t know whether the Pharisees comprehended. I have my doubts.

I am confident that they understood his parable about the incompetent slave, which was also aimed at them and which he made sure to relate while they were members of the crowd listening to him. He made his point so cleverly, however, that they could not respond.

Yeshu said, “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one his gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with ten talents.’ ”

When he had finished the scholars muttered among themselves but said nothing. If they questioned him, they might stir someone to mention the likeness between them and the incompetent slave.

Once, returning from a visit to the eastern coast with some followers, Yeshu came ashore in the region of Dalmanutha. The scribes had noticed his boat approaching and walked there to meet him. The residents of that area welcomed him, but the Pharisees started their familiar challenges about where he drew his authority for his teachings and his cures and his flouting of custom. How dare he assert that he had the personal power to forgive sin? Only the Holy One could do that. They demanded that he produce a sign from heaven, that if he were truly a prophet, God had sanctioned his mission.

He groaned and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Refusing to say more, he turned his back on them, climbed back into the boat and left for another area.

They took advantage of his absence to spread allegations. “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”

The next time he came, Yeshu heard their allegations and made sure to repeat them and respond before a crowd: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end is come.” He directed his words to the scribes. “Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? But if it is by the spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”

The frustration he felt for the scribes only added to his frustration with the hard-heartedness of many Galileans. His anger came pouring out. “To what should I compare this generation?” he once said. “It’s like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to each other: ‘We played the flute for you, but you didn’t dance; we sang a lament; but you didn’t mourn!’ For Yochanan did not come eating or drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

About mid-summer members of the twelve began to return. The Sons of Zebedee came first, having completed the route Yeshu assigned them. Two days later his brothers Thaddaios and Shimon appeared. The following week, Kefa and Andreas came back. Yeshu welcomed them, but I knew him well enough to see the discouragement in his eyes. The sense of urgency he had imparted to them they had in turn imparted to the Galileans they met. They said great numbers had repented and committed themselves to the kingdom. He felt better as he listened to the stories. The kingdom was growing. However, God had not come. Until he chose to come Yeshu’s mission would go on.

Last of all to return were Philippos and Nathanael. Philippos said that his road partner had refused to come home until they had visited for a second time every village assigned them, thinking that someone almost persuaded the first time might have regretted missing his chance. Nathanael smiled and said he was inspired by one of Yeshu’s parables, the one about the corrupt judge and the widow.

Once there was a judge in a town who neither feared God nor cared about people. In that same town was a widow who kept coming to him and demanding, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but eventually he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”

And Nathanael did wear some down. Some people reconsidered and accepted the message upon hearing it again.

With his disciples back and gathered around him, Yeshu decided to confront the scribes even more pointedly. When he saw the men from Kayafa the next morning he said to his disciples, in a voice loud enough for the scribes to hear, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!”

What Yeshu resented above all was the hypocrisy of the scribes. They were sinners, too, but they presumed to judge everyone else. They failed to understand that their own unworthiness was about to be judged by the one who had created them.

Yeshu gave a sermon that same day about hypocrisy. When he began a parable I had never heard, he glanced at the men sent by Kayafa. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave!  I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.”

Certain disciples took special pleasure in Yeshu’s barbs against the scribes from Jerusalem. The sons of Zebedee, Yeshu’s brothers Thaddaios and Shimon, Yehuda of Kerioth, and sometimes even Kefa—all savored his public criticisms of them. Simply to come near the scribes in the market made them stiffen and lose their good mood. They joked among themselves about the way he bested them and the witticisms he aimed at them.

Nathanael, Philippos, and Thomas did not care for the scribes either, but they seemed less interested in discussing them than they did discussing Yeshu.

Yacob seemed nearer to Yeshu’s state of mind than his younger brothers did. For example, it never would occur to him to do as certain other disciples did when some parents brought their children to Yeshu so that he might lay his hands on them. Instead of welcoming the parents who had walked so far to obtain the prophet’s blessing, these disciples scolded them, saying that he should not be distracted from his healing.

When Yeshu became aware of what they were doing, I saw the same flash of anger I had seen directed at the leper before he healed him, and later at the scribes in the synagogue when they objected to the cure of the man with the withered hand. Indignant, Yeshu said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Rachel interrupts to remind me of my own experience with Yeshu the day I met him, when he complimented me for thinking as a child. But I don’t need her reminder; I could not avoid thinking of it. And of course that memory always leads to the next—when he confided, echoing the parable he had used that day, that he thought of himself as a sickle.

At that time I did not know him well enough to comprehend. Now, after more than a year at his side, I could see. Of course, the sickle was only one part of the man—a role that suited him because he found himself at the end of the age. However, there was much more to Yeshu, surely the most complicated man I ever knew. He was the best healer I ever saw and the best teacher. He had the mind of a philosopher and spoke like a great orator. As a leader he required and received greater personal sacrifice than any chieftain or king. With his gift for strategy he might have been a general. Yet he was a voice for God—a prophet.

He was endowed with surpassing intelligence, yet he was subject to intense emotions. I once saw him moved almost to tears by the plight of a caterpillar exposed on a great slab of the Temple wall, which did not realize that by continuing to advance it strayed farther and farther from safety.

Large crowds inspired him, yet he had a holy man’s yearning for solitude. Sometimes he found solace by going off alone to pray. Sometimes he found solace in my company. Sometimes he could find no solace at all.

Almost every day he surprised us in some way.

One afternoon, with no hint beforehand, he announced that he wanted to visit the region of Tyre. He wanted to take only a few of us, and, as was his custom, he wanted to depart the following morning.

I began to prepare, since he had asked me to come with Kefa and the sons of Zebedee. I went to the market, where I overheard something curious. A vendor said that that morning he had heard a scribe address Yeshu derisively, in a strange way—it sounded like ‘Yeshua ben Parthenos’ or ‘ben Panthera.’ Yeshu ignored him and turned away without replying. What did it mean? the vendor wanted to know. Of course, I knew that ‘parthenos’ was Greek for a young woman who had not been with a man, but I could not answer.

I saw Nathanael that evening and mentioned it to him.

He puzzled over the meaning. “Some of these villagers are in great awe of Yeshu. Perhaps the Gentiles imagine he is the son of a god. But why would a scribe address him that way? Unless he said it as sarcasm.”

I mused over the thought of Maria partnering with a god and considered mentioning it to her; but then I considered her aversion to discussing the birth of Yeshu and decided that I should never speak of it.

The next dawn we started northward toward Caesarea Philippi, which took most of two days to reach. Then we followed the western road for one long hard day until we came to the outskirts of Tyre. I told Yeshu that night that I was looking forward to seeing the great city, which was as old and renowned as Jericho, but he said only that we might not be staying long.

The next morning we watched from afar while he wandered the area asking for the location of a certain house. Strangely, he would not tell us the person he was searching for, and he said that he did not want our help. The residents of that area began to ask us who this man was, and we told them about Yeshu’s great works in Galilee. They knew of him; some inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon had even traveled to Kapharnahum to see if he could cure their ailments.

Our revelation of his identity was unfortunate for Yeshu. When he did find the house he was seeking, he entered for awhile and talked with those who lived there. But then a woman who had learned of his presence came begging to see him—a Syro-Phoenician woman, a Gentile. Her daughter had an unclean spirit, and when he came outside she bowed down at his feet and asked him to cast out the demon.

Yeshu seemed unduly peeved. He told her that his mission was only to the circumcised. He said, quite coldly, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

I felt very sorry for the woman. She kept her head, willing to endure his scorn if it meant saving her little girl. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

The display of deep humility and faith always touched Yeshu. He reconsidered, perhaps recalling the Samaritan woman at the well. “For saying that,” he told her, “you may go. The demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

We departed Tyre that same morning. Yeshu wanted to continue on to Sidon.

We walked northward along the coast of the great sea and reached the edge of the city the following day. Yeshu told us to wait for him at a restful place near the shore while he went ahead. Of course we discussed his actions and speculated on his purpose, but none of us dared to question him—even Kefa. He was the master; it was not our place to question him.

When he came back to us he said that he had decided not to return to Caesarea Philippi the same way we had come but to take the shortest distance back, along the country trails. That way was more rugged, through the hills, all the time with Mount Hermon looming up to heaven on our left side, and Yeshu spent most of the time dwelling on his own thoughts.

We reached the city at midday on the second day. Then we headed south, but when we came to the Sea of Galilee, instead of turning west along the shore toward Kapharnahum, Yeshu announced that he wanted to continue down the eastern side. We passed through Bethsaida and Gerasa and then crossed into the Decapolis. We camped outside Hippos, and Yeshu told us that he was undecided whether to send a messenger to the rest of the group at Kapharnahum to join us or to hire a boat and return to them there. Finally we found a fisherman who admired Yeshu who volunteered to sail us all across the sea.

We learned that after our departure from Kapharnahum the scribes had returned to Jerusalem. Yeshu seemed relieved to be free of their harassing criticism. However, in its place we noticed a subtle shift in the mood of the crowds who came to listen to him. There were more questions, more grumbling. Many who were thinking of becoming his disciples were concerned about the requirement to give up their possessions. How could they be sure the Lord would provide for them?

Yeshu answered, “Who among you would hand his son a stone when he has asked you for bread? Who would hand him a snake when it’s fish he’s asking for? If you, who are imperfect, know how to give good things to your child, how much more will your heavenly Father give to you when you ask?”

Some others, who had accepted his message when he first came to Kapharnahum and had been living exemplary lives for more than a year, objected that those just now joining the kingdom would receive the same reward for what might be only a few weeks of sacrifice.

Yeshu told them, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out around the third hour, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired at the eleventh hour came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ ”

The frustration that had been building in Yeshu all that summer left him vexed with the people whose hearts were not ready for sacrifice. He created a parable designed to provoke them into thinking about their reluctance.

“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.’ ”

Watching the people react to the parable, I doubt that more than a few were ever able to grasp Yeshu’s point. He intended for the master’s praise of the dishonest manager to provoke them to think, but they found it unthinkable that such a person should be rewarded. To me, the master praised him because in the face of looming disaster he acted. He did so in the only way he knew, but at least he did not stand there idly, which reluctant members of the crowd were doing.

It was at this time—late in the summer, with the festival of Booths only weeks away, with Yeshu growing daily more frustrated about the loyalty of those who listened to him—that we received the news that was to alter all of our lives. One day, about midday, he had called several of the disciples down to the beach with the thought of sailing across to the Decapolis to preach to the inhabitants there. Kefa and Andreas were readying two small boats. I had not been invited, but I accompanied him to the water’s edge to see him off.

From the direction of the market, I happened to notice his mother Maria approaching. Beside her walked Yoanna, who had come from Tiberias for another visit. They must have encountered each other in the market and Maria was escorting her to the place she knew Yeshu would be. What struck me was the doleful expression on Maria’s normally cheerful face. I immediately felt a chill in my heart. I shouted to Yeshu to keep him from leaving until they arrived. He saw Yoanna and turned away from the beach to meet her and gave her a welcoming hug and kiss.

He, too, could tell that she had brought unpleasant news, so with no word of greeting he asked, “What has happened?”

“A messenger just arrived from Chouzas,” she said. “Terrible news.”

“Tell me.”

“Herodes has executed Yochanan.”



230    “Two men went up to the temple to pray, — TJS, Luke 18:9-14. (NRSV)

230    “Whenever you pray, go into your room — TJS, Matthew 6:6. (NRSV)

230    And when you give alms, — TJS, Matthew 6:3. (NRSV)

230    “No person drinks old wine and immediately — TJS, Thomas 47:3-4. (FG)

231    A sinner had only to accept the call of Yochanan and Yeshu — Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet, 151.

231    “Someone gave a great dinner,” — TJS, Luke 14:16-23. (NRSV)

232    “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, — TJS, Matthew 25:14-28. (NRSV)

233    Dalmanutha. — Mark 8:10. An area on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee, perhaps a half-hour walk from Capernaum.

233    Pharisees started their familiar challenges — TJS, Mark 8:11-13. (NRSV)

233    How dare he assert that he had the personal power to forgive sin? Grant, Jesus, 117. “This … meant that Jesus was arrogating to himself a power which other Jews had reserved for God.”

233    “He has Beelzebul, — TJS, Mark 3:22. (NRSV)

234    “How can Satan cast out Satan?” — TJS, Mark 3:23-26. (NRSV)

234    “Now if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, — TJS, Luke 11:19. (NRSV)

234    “But if it is by the spirit of God that I cast — Matthew 12:28. (NRSV)

234    “To what should I compare this generation? — TJS, Matthew 11:16-19. (HCS)

235    Once there was a judge — TJS, Luke 18:2-5. (NRSV)                        

235    “Beware of the scribes, — TJS, Mark 12:38-39. (NRSV)

236    “This is why the kingdom of heaven may be compared — TJS, Matthew 18:23-34. (NRSV)

236    ten thousand talents — See Bernard Brandon Scott, Re-Imagine the World, 100. The figure is “an astronomical amount,” not meant to be realistic. For comparison, the yearly taxation imposed on Judea by the Romans was 600 talents.

236    a hundred denarii — Ibid. One denarius was a day laborer’s wage.

237    “Let the little children come to me; — TJS, Mark 10:13-15. (NRSV)

238    ‘Yeshua ben Parthenos.’  — Hoffman, Jesus Outside the Gospels, 42. In early rabbinic literature, a healer identified as Jesus was referred to as ben Panthera (“son of Panthera”), a supposed pun in Greek on the Christian belief that he was born of a virgin (ben Parthenos). According to Hoffman, “…since the pun is such a poor one we cannot rule out the possibility that there is a kernel of historical truth to the tradition that Jesus’ real father was known as Pandira” (alternatively Panthera or Pantera). (See notes to Chapter 4.)

239    we started northward toward Caesarea Philippi, — TJS, Mark 7:24-31. Mark never explains this mysterious visit to a house in the vicinity of Tyre. If this is Peter’s recollection, he remained perplexed decades later. Even the route is problematic. The group travels from Capernaum to Tyre by a standard route, accomplishes little of note, then returns by a difficult route. Verse 31 says, “Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.” But Sidon lay some 20 miles north of Tyre while the Sea of Galilee was to the southeast. To reach the Decapolis from Sidon, the group would have had to travel southeast on mountain pathways to Caesarea Philippi, then walk more than 30 miles farther south to Hippos—the northernmost of the ten cities—while skirting Capernaum. Was Mark in error about the route, or did Jesus learn something at the house in Tyre that prompted him to continue to Sidon then take a circuitous route back? At the risk of reading too much into the sketchy text, Jesus appeared to want to avoid returning through Tyre and to avoid returning immediately to Capernaum.

239    Strangely, he would not tell us the person he was searching for — The NRSV says, at Mark 7:24: “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.” Dr. James D. Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, 71-72, suggests a connection between this enigmatic visit and rumors that Jesus was sired by a man named Pantera. Dr. Tabor investigated a tombstone found in Germany in 1859 that dates to the era of Jesus. The inscription reads: “Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera of Sidon, aged 62, a soldier of 40 years service, of the 1st cohort of archers, lies here.” From this, and other research, Tabor concluded that Abdes Pantera (Greek, Pentheros) was a Semitic man born in Sidon, a town on the Phoenician coast. It seems plausible that he was a slave who earned his freedom by making a career of the Roman Army. His unit, the first cohort of archers, left the Levant in 6 C.E. when redeployed to Dalmatia (now Croatia), and Luke explicitly states that Jesus was born during the year of the first Roman census, which took place in 6-7 C.E. (Ibid., 59-72)

239    some inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon had even traveled to Kapharnahum — Luke 6:17-18.

240    a woman came begging to see him, a Syro-Phoenician woman, (And following) — TJS, Mark 7:24-30. (NRSV)

241    We passed through Bethsaida and Gerasa and then crossed into the Decapolis. — Mark 7:31.

241    “Who among you would hand his son a stone — TJS, Matthew 7:9-11. (Q)

242    “The kingdom of God is like a landowner — TJS, Matthew 20:1-15. (NRSV)

243    “There was a rich man who had a manager, — TJS, Luke 16:1-8. (NRSV) This parable lends itself to widely divergent interpretations. The one I use here was proposed by Michael Grant, Jesus, 19.


16               The flight to Caesarea Philippi and Yeshu’s admission.     


All I recall after those words are the cries of a few aimless gulls and the cheerful banter of the disciples. They were still on the beach beside the boats and could not hear what Yoanna said.

Those of us who heard were unable to speak. Yeshu finally said, “This cannot be.”

“Chouzas sent his most trusted servant to tell me,” Yoanna said.

“This cannot be,” he repeated. “Why?”

“You know,” Yoanna said. “His fear of Yochanan’s influence.”

“I mean—Why now?”

“It was Herodes’ birthday.” Realizing how terrible that sounded, she rushed to explain. “There was a celebration. His courtiers were all in attendance. Chouzas said Herodias was in the next room. She arranged for her daughter Shalom to go dance for the king’s amusement and he found her so enchanting that he made a rash promise. In front of his entire court he gave his oath that she could have any reward she named, up to half his kingdom. She ran out to consult with her mother. When she came back she—”

Yeshu misunderstood her hesitation. “She asked for his execution?”

Yoanna instead spoke the blunt truth. “She asked for Yochanan’s head to be brought to her on a serving platter.”

The horror of that image struck all of us. My memory raced back to my first glimpse of Yochanan’s wild hair and beard, when he emerged from the tent at Bethany. Maria’s horror exceeded mine, having known him from his infancy.

“Because of one rash promise?” I said.

Yeshu said, “I believe the Fox is wilier than that.”

“What do you mean?”

Yoanna confirmed his suspicion. “Chouzas said there is a palace rumor that the king and queen contrived the incident. They both wanted him dead, Herodias because he embarrassed her in public, Herodes because he was weakening the loyalty of his soldiers and tax collectors. They decided that if Herodes appeared to make a careless oath under the sway of wine during a celebration—” She did not finish the sentence.

“He really is in league with Satan,” I said.

“So is Herodias,” Maria said.

Yeshu muttered toward the ground. “I don’t understand. He should have been called to heaven in a fiery chariot.”

Kefa and the others had noticed our grave expressions and now hurried toward us to learn the cause.

Yoanna gripped Yeshu’s hand. “You must be careful.”

“Did Chouzas say something?”

“There was no need.”

“I suppose not.”

“What are we to do?” I asked foolishly.

“I need to pray about this,” Yeshu said. He thanked Yoanna for bringing him the news, then started toward the road leading out of town. After twenty paces he turned back and called, “Mariamne.”

I hurried to his side and we walked together to find some place where he could be undisturbed. I tried to think of something to soothe him. “He has been under arrest for months. Herodes has left you alone.”

“I am next,” Yeshu said. “Everyone knows my connection with him.”

“You haven’t denounced Herodes publicly the way he did.”

“I teach the kingdom coming to replace Herodes.”

We searched for a place, but when he found one he liked he took hold of my hand to keep me from walking away. “I didn’t foresee this.”

“How could you?”

“Everything is in the scriptures.”

“You expect too much of yourself.”

“I didn’t foresee his arrest. Now this. If I missed this, what else am I missing?”

He drew me against him. He had not been so tender with me since the star-filled evening in Cana. I enjoyed being embraced by him but could not help feeling awkward because I knew that he had come out to speak with God. Then it dawned on me that perhaps right now I should stop seeing him as a wonder-worker, a prophet, a man whose intelligence surpassed that of everyone I knew. Perhaps he was just a man in the grip of doubt. I held him tight.

He said into my ear, “What must he have been thinking?”


“Yochanan—as he waited for the blade to come down.”

“I don’t like to dwell on it.”

“I know Yochanan. He would pray until the last moment. He would be certain the Lord was about to act.”

“Why didn’t he?” I asked.

“Yes, why didn’t he? Why would he forsake his prophet?”

We stood there clasping each other.

“There is an explanation,” he said. “I need to discover it.”

But still he would not let me go.

He again spoke into my ear. “I’ve been very thoughtless of you.”

He said it tenderly, and that one heartfelt comment made up for a hundred occasions that my hope to spend time alone with him had been crushed by his sudden shift of attention to some other person or pressing matter. “You’ve been doing the work of five men,” I responded.

“No, not thoughtless,” he said. “Even when I leave you behind, I think of you. I mean inconsiderate.”

“I understand your mission.”

“I know you do. And I hope you know how much I treasure you. One day—” He left the phrase in the air. He kissed me, once on the lips and once on the forehead. Then, reluctantly it seemed, he released me and sat down to pray.

He was not very long, and when he stood up again his eyes were hard and determined. Upon our arrival back in Kapharnahum, he told everyone to prepare to leave immediately for Bethsaida. From there we would leave at dawn for Caesarea Philippi.

A great discussion had taken place after we left, since the disciples revered Yochanan and considered him a prophet. Thaddaios and Shimon the Zealot now grumbled about leaving, arguing that this was our area of greatest support. They said we should try to organize the new citizens of the kingdom of God to stand up against Antipas. Yacob son of Zebedee and Yehuda of Kerioth firmly agreed, saying that right now Herodes was forced to keep his army massed at Machaerus, awaiting the attack by Aretas. He would never be weaker.

As they argued for this point of view I watched Yeshu’s jaw tighten with anger. No one loved Yochanan more than he, but why did their thoughts always turn to violence? Would no one ever learn to see as he did? However, he did not argue, merely saying, “We leave now.”

There was no defiance of him and no further discussion.

I knew his thoughts. Whatever success we had achieved that spring and summer, it was not enough. There was no prospect of a fighting force, only a number of people who were beginning to see in a new way. They had not agreed to take up arms but to try to live in accordance with God’s plan—to care for one another as brothers and sisters and keep love and forgiveness in their hearts. Even among these there were backsliders. Many whose hearts had been changed and who had pledged to rededicate themselves did so anticipating the arrival of God on earth. When months passed and he did not come they began to slip back into their old ways. Yeshu found it hard to conceal his discouragement with these people, and his frustration.

Presently a crowd gathered, loudly discussing the news about Yochanan. They lamented his death and what it meant for the new kingdom, but many complained. The Baptizer had dashed their hopes. He had appeared impressive indeed, crying out in the wilderness in his leather belt and camel’s-hair coat—but in fact what had he accomplished? He had stood firm, but Herodes had cut him down.

Yeshu grew incensed. He finally spoke up and mocked them. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see, a cane shaken by the wind? Or did you go out to see something else, a man clad in soft draperies? Surely those who wear soft draperies are found in kings’ palaces.” In just a few words, he made them look foolish for their whining. Yochanan had died because he had not wavered. Would they expect less from a man of God? Those who wavered were the kind of men who surrounded Herodes. Yeshu went on, “What then did you go out for, to see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet. He it is of whom it is stated, ‘See, I will send my messenger before you, to pave the way for you.”

Yeshu directed his penetrating gaze into the eyes of the nearest of the complaining men, but his words were meant for the whole crowd: “I tell you truly, among all of women born there has never arisen a greater than Yochanan.”

The frustration he was feeling about the people who clamored to be healed but lapsed into complacency when the kingdom did not come the following week, came out in a rush. “Woe to Korazin!” he said to the crowd. “Woe to Bethsaida!  For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Kapharnahum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to Sheol.”

In spite of his valiant efforts, the widespread embrace of the new kingdom he had struggled for was, so far, a lesser victory than he hoped. And now the prophet he so greatly respected had slipped out of his reach.

We climbed into one large boat and sailed far from shore to avoid being hailed by Herodes’ border guards. The light was fading when we came to land on a desert shore in Gaulanitis perhaps an hour’s walk south of that Bethsaida recently named Julias. We made camp and at first light rose to start north. As we arrived in town word spread that Yeshu was there. Before we could pass through on our way to Caesarea Philippi, some people approached us leading a blind man and pleaded with Yeshu to touch the man and heal him.

Despite his low spirits Yeshu delayed our journey north to help the man. He took him by the hand and led him to the edge of town. There he spat into the man’s eyes and placed his hands on him. He started questioning him, “Can you see anything?”

The man replied, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Yeshu continued working with the man until his sight was restored.

We started northward. Yeshu withdrew more and more into his own thoughts during the afternoon and everyone respected his need for solitude. Once or twice he stopped suddenly and sat down, as though staggered by some thought. He did not speak until we had gathered around the fire for our evening meal. Some of the disciples had started to reminisce about Yochanan—a few of them had followed him first. At last, one who had not followed him first asked Yeshu to teach them all to pray as Yochanan had taught.

Yeshu set down the food he was eating and clasped his hands together in his lap. “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’ ”

A deep silence followed that no one wanted to disturb.

When Yeshu finally spoke again, he asked a question that would lead to the most memorable experience of our lives to that point. Of course, no one knew that at first. While the fire crackled before us all, he gazed above our heads and said to no one in particular, “Who do people say that I am?”

No one sensed the direction of his thoughts. However, one of the disciples recalled that when the word had gone out in the market that Herodes had executed Yochanan, and some people were not aware that it was very recent news, they remarked that Yeshu must be Yochanan somehow restored to life. So the disciple replied, “Some think you are Yochanan the Baptizer come again.”

This prompted someone else to say, “I have heard you called Elijah come again.”

Others responded “Elisha” and “Jeremiah.”

Yeshu put an end to the speculation. “But who do you say that I am?”

Now everyone there had the same response in mind, or they would not be following him, but only one person summoned the courage to voice that thought. Out of the silence Kefa said, “You are the messiah.”

We waited, every one of us with interrupted breath.

The trace of a smile formed on Yeshu’s lips. His sidelong glance at me went unobserved by the others. A storm of excitement began to sweep through us all. He did not dispute it! Before the storm could erupt he raised one hand. “This is not to be shared with anyone outside this group.”

That confined the storm, but it would not abate. It intensified in our feverish and delighted glances at each other. Those of us sitting there that night shared the greatest secret of our time. The one anointed by God had come and he was sitting among us! We were part of his mission. He had chosen us as his followers. The pride and excitement we felt were almost unbearable. Herodes might have his palaces, Caesar might have his empire, but we were sitting with God’s prophet on earth—the man who would overturn centuries of Gentile oppression and usher in the Golden Age of Israel.

We savored the wave of exultation while it lasted. That, however, was not for long.

Gazing at Yeshu, I realized that there was a disagreement between that thin smile and the expression in his eyes. Moments later he began to reveal to us that the scriptures laid out a path for the future that none of us expected.



248    “It was Herodes’ birthday.” — TJS, Mark 6:14-29. While portions were voted of doubtful authenticity, the overall story of John’s execution is accepted as historical by The Jesus Seminar. See Funk, et al, The Acts of Jesus, 86-88.

248    Chouzas said Herodias was in the next room. — Gillman, Herodias: At Home in That Fox’s Den, 31, Note 22. The ruins of the fortress of Machaerus show that the dining room was divided into two adjacent rooms, probably one for men and one for women. (See Mark 6:24-25.)

249    Herodes because he was weakening the loyalty of his soldiers and tax collectors. — Gillman, Herodias: At Home in That Fox’s Den, 82, and Note 7.

253    “What did you go out into the wilderness to see, — TJS, Matthew 11:7-11. (ONT) I draw on Meier’s discussion of these verses in A Marginal Jew (Vol. 2), 138-140, but use Schonfield’s translation in The Original New Testament, 79. In his notes, Schonfield points out double meanings in Jesus’ words. Note 2: Heb qaneh (reed) and qana (a Zealot) suggests “a Zealot swayed by passion.” Note 3: “a man clad in soft draperies” is metaphorically “a man surrounded with flatteries.”

253    there has never arisen a greater than Yochanan.” — This declaration occurs at Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28. Both go on to qualify it with “yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” This last phrase likely was added by an uncomfortable redactor. A Hebrew version of Matthew has been found (See George Howard, Hebrew Gospel of Matthew) in which the text states flatly: “Truly I say to you, among all those born of women none has arisen greater than John the Baptizer.” While the Greek texts at 11:13 say “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John,” the Hebrew text says “For all the prophets and the law spoke concerning John.” If these are authentic words of Jesus, they suggest he initially believed that John was the one chosen by God.

253    “Woe to you, Korazin!” he said to the crowd. “Woe to you, Bethsaida! — Matthew 11:21-23. (HCS) I replace the “Hades” in the translation with “Sheol,” because Jesus would have addressed his own band in Aramaic.

254    some people approached us leading a blind man — TJS, Mark 8:22-24. (NRSV) The Jesus Seminar rejected some verses but accepted the core of the story as historical. There is an interesting parallel in the life of the Roman Emperor Vespasian, who in the year 69 healed a blind man by spitting into his eyes. (See Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, 284.)

255    “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name. — TJS, Luke 11:2-4. (NRSV)

255    “Who do people say that I am?” — Mark 8:27-30. (NRSV) The Fellows of The Jesus Seminar considered this scene “atypical of Jesus” and “alien to his fundamental disposition” and decided that it was therefore unhistorical. I include it because it seems a plausible turning point leading to the sequence of events in the last months of Jesus’ life. In fact, from this point forward The Jesus Seminar considered very little of Jesus’ story to be historical, sometimes because it appeared to be later Christian convictions read back into his life, other times because they concluded that the Gospel authors were imagining settings for remembered acts and sayings rather than recording the true context.




17               Dreadful prophecies, memories to savor.


We had all heard tales of the coming messiah. Like an earlier messiah, Cyrus the Persian, this one would vanquish the Lord’s enemies; but unlike Cyrus he would be descended from David and was destined to rule over the Kingdom of God on earth. We knew this from childhood. Thus we found it difficult to grasp what Yeshu had to say.

“I need to tell you all what is to come,” he said. “You may think you know, but that is because you believe the daydreams of those who do not know. If you want to know the truth, you have to understand the prophets. You have to interpret their words. There will be glory, but only in the end. Listen and I’ll tell you what is in store for the Son of Man—and for you.”

Once again he began to stare above our heads, as though the words were written on the night sky. “The Psalms say, ‘The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed.’ They also say, ‘For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They beset me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me, even while I make prayer for them.’

“Isaiah says, ‘He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.’ And the prophecies forbid resistance. Isaiah says, ‘He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.’ Isaiah also says, ‘I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.’

“The Psalms say, ‘I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.’ They go on to say, ‘I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast.’

“I have no choice but to endure to the end. Zecharyah says, ‘I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child.’ ”

I looked around at the faces illuminated by the dancing firelight—Maria, Shalom, Yacob, Nathanael, Yehuda of Kerioth, and the others—seeing the dismay in the eyes of those who loved Yeshu and admired him.

“I tell you,” he said, “all of this will come to pass. And there is more. You need to be prepared for it. I anticipate it.”

Kefa, thinking that Yeshu was simply melancholy because of the death of his cousin the Baptizer, tried to interrupt to turn him from the mood. “Master, surely you don’t think—”

Yeshu held up one hand. “I said there will be glory in the end.

“The Psalms say, ‘The snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens, and came down.’

“Hosea writes, ‘Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.’

“The Psalms say, ‘He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” ’ They also say, ‘In your strength the king rejoices, O Lord, and in your help how greatly he exults! … For you meet him with rich blessings; you set a crown of fine gold on his head. He asked you for life; you gave it to him—length of days forever and ever.’ ”

While reciting the scriptures for us, Yeshu drifted off into that trance I had seen him enter when we walked along together after his morning prayer—as though voicing the words of prophecy lifted him in spirit toward the Lord. I could see in him that strange flame that I had recognized before.

Kefa either did not see it or, more likely, was so filled with what he wanted to say himself that he ignored it. “Master, are you certain of these interpretations? The Lord of hosts would never ask his messiah to die.”

Yeshu plunged from his elevated state of mind directly into sharp anger. “Kefa, don’t you listen? Do you value your own thoughts more highly than scripture? The prophets laid out the truth and you believe you can ignore it. Get behind me, Satan! You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things. What the Lord requires must be done. How else are people to distinguish imposters from the man truly sent by God?”

He glanced around at the others. “Tell me, what does everyone expect of me?”

No one had confidence enough to respond to him until Philippos finally said, “Malachi says that the prophet to come will reconcile the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.”

“That was Elijah,” Yeshu said, his anger still not abated. “But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.” We all immediately understood his reference to Yochanan the Baptizer.

“Do not think,” he went on, with fire in his eyes, “that my way will be easy. Whoever will follow me must be utterly reckless. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.”

 No one ventured to speak after that. No one, except perhaps Thaddaios and Shimon and the Sons of the Storm-Wind, enjoyed seeing him enraged. Those four were encouraged to hear what they thought were hints of an uprising.

To me it was discouraging to have our mood of wild exhilaration ruined so quickly. Like Kefa I suspected that the true cause was Yeshu’s upset about the ghastly death of his cousin Yochanan. However, I remained silent.

We prepared for sleep and the next day continued on to Caesarea Philippi. Just north of the city, near the base of the mighty peak Mount Hermon, natural springs feed the brooks that become the Jordan River. The most remarkable of these springs gushes in a torrent from a limestone cave in the mountainside, plunging into a deep pool. Forever nourished by pure mountain water, the pool’s banks are covered with moss and ferns, and dotted with wild roses and fig trees. Thick stands of willows, oaks, and silver poplars shade the stream that flows away to become the Jordan. Encountering this splendor in the midst of an arid countryside, I could not help but think of the Garden of Eden.

The Gentiles believed the vicinity was sacred to their god Pan, and so named the place Paneas. They erected statues to him and other gods. Although uncomfortable, as keepers of the Law, to be taking refuge so near to pagan idols, we camped near enough to the falling torrent to hear its steady roar.

Yeshu spent much of that day dwelling on his own thoughts, but in the evening I found him near the fire and took him some sweet grapes I had bought at the market. “Would you prefer to remain alone?” I asked.

“Don’t you know by now you are always welcome?” he said.

The moon was full and hovered low above the eastern hills like a luminous pearl. “I’ve been thinking about your message last night,” I said. “You said they had done to Yochanan what they pleased. Then you said, ‘as it is written about him.’ What was it that the scriptures said about him?”

He smiled as he tasted one of the grapes. “Mariamne, why are you the only one who hears?”

He surprised me by his response to what I thought was a simple question. I did not know how to reply.

“Ever since Yoanna gave us the news,” he said, “I’ve been thinking it over—trying to understand why there is no scripture that points to Yochanan’s death. If I consider the passages of Isaiah and Malachi that foretell Yochanan, there is no hint that he will not live to see the kingdom come. That confounds me. How could an event so major go unforeseen? I could not believe the Lord would give us no prophecy. Then, while we were walking north yesterday, I was reflecting on the words of Zecharyah. There is a section near the end of his book speaking of the final battle for Jerusalem—‘For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped…’ Then I thought back over the verses leading up to this and suddenly the words began to thunder in my head so strongly that I had no choice but to stop and sit down.”

He set aside the bunch of grapes and stared at me. “Mariamne, listen to what the prophet said: ‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd…’ Do you hear that?—‘Awake, O sword.’ Just before the end of the age, before all nations gather for the battle for Jerusalem, the Lord says through his prophet: ‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is my associate. Strike the shepherd; that the sheep may be scattered…” His hands had meanwhile gripped my shoulders. He stared straight into my eyes. “When we heard the news, what was our response? To leave Galilee. To retreat to a safer place.”

“To scatter,” I said. Through his fingers on my shoulders I felt the intensity of his emotion and my spine shivered the way his must have when he first recalled the passage.

“There is more,” he said.

I was not sure I wanted to hear more.

“Shortly before the prophecy about the sword striking the shepherd, there is the passage I quoted last night. The Lord says he will pour out a spirit of compassion on the house of David and the people of Jerusalem, so that they will mourn for the one they have pierced as they would for an only child. Zecharyah names the mourners as from the house of David, the house of Nathan, and the house of Levi. Mariamne, I am descended from David through Nathan—his second son by Bathsheba—and my mother has many Levites in her bloodline. But my point is to consider all of it together: the passage about the one they have pierced and the passage about the sword striking down the shepherd, both coming just before the battle for Jerusalem.”

I had no way to reply to all he was saying. Because I was in awe of his intelligence, and because of the feverish way he studied the prophecies and his mastery of them from living among the Essenes, I accepted that his interpretations must be correct. I, least of all, was capable of disputing him.

“Mariamne, I am as sure of this as I have ever been of anything: the time for caution is passing. Up to now I have had to be patient, and wily, and careful—respecting my enemies and knowing that the time was not yet right. Now I know that the time will soon be right. Soon I’ll need to be the opposite of cautious. I’ll need to be daring and utterly without fear. To fulfill my destiny, I’ll need to place myself in the hands of the Lord and completely at the mercy of my enemies.”

I could not dispute with him, but what mattered to me were the fruits of what he was saying. They were no longer words written in a book; he was speaking of what might be his own death. He was telling me that the life we were living would soon come to an end. Listening to him filled me with sorrow and dread.

He divined my mood. “Enough,” he said. He stroked my hair. “Let’s go for a walk.”

He picked up the cluster of grapes and we walked along, hand in hand. 

As we ambled through the shrubbery the radiant moon revealed the path for us. The leaves glistened in the moonlight from the fine mist carried through the air from the splashing pool. In none of our times together, not in Judea, not in Cana, not in Kapharnahum, had we ever enjoyed such solitude and such tranquility. It was the kind of companionship we both craved at that moment: aimless, comforting. Neither of us spoke. We simply enjoyed the night. The prophets were forgotten, along with their dire verses.

Out of the darkness loomed the face of Pan—one of the marble idols the tetrarch Philippos had erected in the area. We averted our eyes as we passed, but in my imagination the statue’s eyes leered at us from behind.

We found ourselves approaching the pool. The sound of the torrent grew. We paused in a narrow glade where the incessant splash masked all other sounds. Yeshu gestured for me to sit down on the soft grass and then sat beside me. There were only the two of us in a space bordered by dense shrubbery, cut off from the noise and sin and anguish of the world, gazing at the moon and stars above, and once again I could not avoid thinking of Eden.

I confess I was profoundly happy to have Yeshu all to myself in such a setting. Did I anticipate what was to come? I can honestly say that I do not know. I was not thinking beyond the moment. All I knew was that his companionship was all I needed. I had no desire to be anywhere else with anyone else doing any other thing. He gazed at me in the moonlight; and when he plucked a grape from the bunch and offered it up to my lips with his fingertips, I did not hesitate to savor its sweetness.



259    Like an earlier messiah, Cyrus the Persian, — Isaiah 45 opens with the words, “Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus…” There were various messiahs (leaders sanctioned by God) in Jewish history, including David. In Jesus’ time the expectation was that one descended from David would implement the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. According to Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 158, the word messiah, in the era of Jesus, connoted “installation in office” by God.

259    ‘The kings of the earth set themselves, — Psalm 2:2. (KJV) I credit Hugh Schonfield, The Passover Plot, 95-97, for inspiring this section and for providing most of the scriptural references.

259    ‘For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened — Psalm 109:2-4. (NRSV)

259    ‘He was despised and rejected by others; — Isaiah 53:3. (NRSV)

260    ‘He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, — Isaiah 53:7. (NRSV)

260    ‘I gave my back to those who struck me, — Isaiah 50:6. (NRSV)

260    ‘I am a worm, and not human; — Psalm 22:6. (NRSV)

260    ‘I am poured out like water, — Psalm 22:14. (NRSV)

260    ‘I will pour out a spirit of compassion — Zechariah 12:10. (NRSV)

260    ‘The snares of death confronted me. — Psalm 18:5-9.

261    ‘Come, let us return to the Lord; — Hosea 6:1-2. (NRSV)

261    ‘He who sits in the heavens laughs; — Psalm 2:4-6. (NRSV)

261    ‘In your strength the king rejoices, — Psalm 21:1, 3-4. (NRSV)

262    Get behind me, Satan! — Mark 8:33. (NRSV)

262    “Malachi says that he will reconcile the hearts — Malachi 4:5.

262    “But I tell you that Elijah has come, — Mark 9:13. (NRSV)

262    Those who try to make their life secure — TJS, Matthew 17:33 (NRSV)

264    the passages of Isaiah and Malachi that foretell Yochanan — Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3.

264    “For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem — Zechariah 14:2. (NRSV)

264    ‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd…’ — Zechariah 13:7. (NRSV)

265    “Shortly before the prophecy about the sword striking the shepherd,” — See Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, 178-179.

265    his mastery of them from living among the Essenes — Jesus’ stay with the Essenes is speculative, but they epitomized such abilities. Josephus, Jewish War, 2.8.12: “There are also those among them who undertake to foretell things to come, by reading the holy books, and using several sorts of purifications, and being perpetually conversant in the discourses of the prophets; and it is but seldom that they miss in their predictions.”



18               Yeshu sets his face toward Jerusalem.                  


From the moment in Tiberias when Yoanna had surprised me by saying, “I suspect it is more than trust,” I knew that others were aware of Yeshu’s special feelings for me. Over the months since, Maria, Shalom, and Maryam had also said things which hinted that they knew. Even Kefa and the sons of Zebedee gave unspoken clues. In spite of all this I continued to be restrained around Yeshu because of the holiness we all saw in him and respect for the mission to which he was called.

The morning after our evening together at the pool I still tried to maintain a respectful distance. Yeshu, however, made it clear that was no longer appropriate. At the morning fire, in sight of everyone, he wrapped his arm around me. He said that he no longer wanted to disguise his feelings for me, and he began to treat me with intimacy no matter the situation. From that day forward everyone accepted that we were a couple. We would have bound ourselves in a marriage ceremony if it had not been for the pressing approach of the kingdom and the urgent needs of his mission.

Looking back, the death of the Baptizer marked a sea change for everyone. We had clear evidence of the approaching end and that broke through inhibitions of all sorts. It was no longer acceptable to be restrained; it was the time for candor and action.

Yeshu himself had provoked discussion of his mission. He had revealed to us what was to come. The disciples accordingly became more forthright. Kefa ventured, “Look, we have left everything and followed you,” and wondered how their loyalty would be rewarded.

Yeshu answered him plainly, assuring them a hundredfold reward and adding, “Just as my Father has given me a kingdom, I also give you a kingdom so you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom. And you will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

With new determination Yeshu let us know that we would soon be returning to Kapharnahum. He had satisfied himself that the Baptizer’s death was part of the Lord’s plan. While he respected the threat posed by Herodes, he no longer saw a need to fear his earthly power.

A few days later Yeshu took Kefa and the sons of Zebedee with him and climbed one of the slopes of Mount Hermon. There he prayed about what was to come. When he returned, leading the others, he found a crowd waiting for him.

The people had walked out from the city, which was not so far away, accompanying a man who hoped Yeshu could heal his son, who was inhabited by a demon. Some scholars had also come out to watch after learning that Yeshu was there. They were involved in a dispute with the disciples.

“What are you arguing about with them?” Yeshu asked his disciples when he approached them.

Instead of one of them replying a man from the crowd spoke up. “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.”

Vexed by the failure of his disciples, Yeshu said, “Bring him to me.”

They brought him. When the spirit saw Yeshu it immediately convulsed the boy and he fell on the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. “How long has this been happening to him?” Yeshu asked the father.

“From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him. But if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”

Yeshu echoed his words sharply, “If you are able! If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.”

Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

As the crowd began to converge on them, Yeshu rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again!”

At that the spirit cried out and convulsed the boy terribly. Then the boy stopped moving and appeared dead. Most of those watching assumed that he truly had died, but when Yeshu took him by the hand and gave him support he was able to stand. The scholars, who had never seen anything like this before, asked Yeshu how he had done it.

Yeshu told them it was a sign of the coming kingdom of God.

“When will this be?” one of them asked.

Yeshu said to them and the crowd watching, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

Then, in front of the scholars and the crowd, he told those of us in his group that we would be returning to Galilee the next morning.

One of the scholars advised him, “You need to beware. Herodes has sent out word to have you killed.”

Yeshu responded, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ ”

So it was that he began to speak openly about such things—that he was a prophet sent by God and that he expected to meet his destiny in Jerusalem. It sent a chill through me to hear him say it so plainly in front of the crowd.

Something else occurred to me. I thought I found new meaning in the words he had used from Hosea. The next day, I asked him about it during our walk south. Once more he said, with a private and satisfied smile, “Why is it that you hear these things and no one else?”

When speaking to us all of his coming time of trial, he had quoted the prophet Hosea as saying, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”

His point then was the prophet’s assurance that God would save him. But this time that did not seem to be his subject, and I knew from other references to the passage that Hosea had been speaking more generally of the people of Israel and the end of their oppression.

Yeshu explained. “I was immersed by Yochanan a year ago last spring. Next spring my mission will complete two years. Passover will begin the third year. You know that the prophets often use ‘day’ to symbolize a year. When Hosea says ‘On the third day he will raise us up,’ I believe he means that next year I finish my work. Next year Israel will be free.”

Once more I was in awe of his mastery of the scriptures. Once more I was filled with foreboding, because I knew very well what he meant by finishing his work at Passover.

As we neared the end of our journey back, sailing from Bethsaida to Kapharnahum, we overheard the disciples squabbling among themselves. Even though Yeshu pretended to ignore them he heard enough to understand. After we arrived and had entered Kefa’s house he asked what the argument had been about. No one wanted to answer because they were too ashamed.

There was no need for anyone to explain. I had heard as well as Yeshu that they were disputing among themselves about who was the chief among his disciples. Kefa had distinguished himself at Caesarea Philippi when he was the first to call Yeshu the messiah and Yeshu acknowledged it—without acknowledging it—by not correcting him. Never one to hesitate to assert himself, Kefa since that night had grown even more confident. This upset the sons of Zebedee, who were no less manly than Kefa and thought of themselves as the key disciples. They reminded Kefa that Yeshu had shortly afterward berated him for his foolishness. Kefa was of course irritated to be reminded of this and he resented the two of them for their lack of deference. Thaddaios and Shimon and Yehuda of Kerioth took the side of the sons of Zebedee, but the others tended to prefer to do as Kefa said, even with his faults.

This pettiness frustrated Yeshu, who saw it as proof that his disciples were failing to understand the essence of his teaching. He called all of the twelve together. He said, “I have told you time and again and I have demonstrated the truth for you myself. Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” They glanced uneasily at the floor and at each other, but no one had the courage to respond.

Yeshu looked around at them. “I keep hoping to see the light fill you all—the light that will illuminate the dark corners where you still find it important to be above or below, or first or second or third. Don’t you see that the light is what is important? With it you can change yourselves. Change yourselves and you bring the kingdom into the world. I see the light shining in all of you from time to time, but the only one in whom it seems to shine constantly is Mariamne.”

As much as I savored hearing the words from his lips, I shrank at the mention of my name in those circumstances. Fortunately, just then someone came to the gate of the house. While Kefa’s wife went to see who it was, Kefa and Andreas both picked up weapons to be prepared.

A courier had arrived a day after our departure for Caesarea Philippi and remained in town when the people told him that Yeshu always returned. Now he had learned that we were back. He was strangely garbed, as though he came from the east, and he carried a finely crafted leather bag on one shoulder. “Are you Rabbi Yeshua, the healer?” he asked.

“The Lord works through me,” Yeshu said.

“My name is Ananias. I was sent to Tiberias to deliver a message to you, but there they told me that your hometown is Kapharnahum.”

“My hometown is Nazareth,” Yeshu said, “but I come here often.”

I had never seen a courier deliver a message before. I saw them passing by on the roads, but they were always bound for palaces or military posts or the houses of the powerful. The man retrieved a document from the leather bag. “I have been sent by Abgar Uchama the toparch, who lives in Edessa. The toparch sends you his greetings and this letter.”

Yacob, brother of Yeshu, said, “Your fame has reached Edessa.” I was unsure of the country’s location, knowing only that it was far beyond Damascus.

Yeshu unrolled the scroll. It was written in Syriac. He handed it back to Ananias. “Why don’t you read it for us?”

Ananias held it up and began to read:


Abgar Uchama the toparch to Yeshua, who has appeared as a gracious savior in the region of Jerusalem.  Greeting.


I have heard about you and about the cures you perform without drugs or herbs. If report is true, you make the blind see again and the lame walk; you cleanse lepers, expel unclean spirits and demons, cure those suffering from chronic and painful diseases, and raise the dead. When I heard all this about you, I concluded that one of two things must be true—either you are God and came down from heaven to do these things, or you are God’s son doing them. Accordingly I am writing to beg you to come to me, whatever the inconvenience, and cure the disorder from which I suffer. I may add that I understand the Jews are treating you with contempt and desire to injure you. My city is very small, but highly esteemed, adequate for both of us.


Ananias lowered the scroll when he had finished reading and said, “Rabbi, the toparch is in misery because of his disease. I know he would reward you greatly if you came and cured him.”

Yacob, son of Zebedee, said, “Abgar Uchama—I’ve heard that he supports Aretas in his dispute with Herodes.”

“Is this true?” Yeshu asked Ananias.

Not knowing how Yeshu and the others felt about Herodes, the courier was hesitant to answer. “I am not a diplomat, rabbi.”

“Yes,” said Shimon the Zealot. “Now that you mention it, I recall that too.”

“Then he deserves to be healed,” Yeshu said. He considered. “Unfortunately, there is no way I can consider such a journey right now.”

Ananias said, “I am prepared to take back your response. Would you like to tell me and I will write down your words?”

Yeshu dictated the letter to him:


Happy are you who believed in me without seeing me! For it is written of me that those who have seen me will not believe in me, and that those who have not seen will believe and live. As to your request that I should come to you, I must complete all that I was sent to do here, and on completing it must at once be taken up to the One who sent me. When I have been taken up I will send you one of my disciples to cure your disorder and bring life to you and those with you.


The courier thanked him and departed.

That evening there was a great discussion. Everyone knew now that Yeshu expected to confront his destiny in Jerusalem. Only a week remained until the Feast of the Tabernacles. His brothers Thaddaios and Shimon urged him to go up to the holy city for the feast, arguing that no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. Even Yacob thought it was time that he showed himself to the world. The Lord would surely protect his own, and when the people of Jerusalem saw what the Galileans had seen they would rise up to support him.

For Yeshu, the proper time for a prophet to confront the authorities was Passover. After we retired that night he whispered to me that he now worried about his disciples almost as much as he worried about Herodes and Kayafa. The disciples knew his intentions. They were restless for the kingdom to come. They had their own desires. And because they so strongly wanted him to declare himself they might fail to understand the delicacy of his situation and hail him publicly before he was prepared. Not only that, to reach Jerusalem they would follow the pilgrim trail down the eastern bank of the Jordan River, which passed through Perea and exposed him to arrest by Herodes’ men.

He finally persuaded the disciples that his time had not yet come and told them to go on alone to the feast. What they did not know was that he had decided to go to Jerusalem, but secretly, not with them. He would strike off along the shorter route through Samaria just as soon as they had departed.

Of course, he would not permit me to travel with him on the more dangerous route, so I had to choose between remaining in Kapharnahum or accompanying the band of disciples through Perea, all the while secretly fretting about him and his safety. 



270    “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” — Mark 10:28. (NRSV)

270    “Just as my Father has given me — Luke 22:29-30. (NCV)

270    A few days later Yeshu took Kefa and the sons — According to the Gospels, the transfiguration took place at this point. Michael Grant, Jesus, 80, speaks for most scholars when he says, “The elaborate miraculous account of the Transfiguration contains elements that look like deliberate, subsequent inventions…” The Jesus Seminar called the scene “an invention of Mark” and regarded it as unhistorical. See Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 106.

270    When he returned, leading the others, he found a crowd — TJS, Mark 9:14-27. (NRSV) While certain verses were considered doubtful, The Jesus Seminar concluded that it was possible that the core of the story of the epileptic boy was historical.

271    “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here — Mark 9:1. (NIV)

272    “Go and tell that fox for me, — Luke 13:32-33. (NRSV)

273    You know that the prophets often use ‘day’ to symbolize a year. — Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, 184-185. The correlation of Jesus’ first, second, and third years with this passage is inspired by Tabor.

273    we overheard the disciples squabbling among themselves. — Mark 9:33-37.

274    Edessa — A city and region in what is now southern Turkey.

275    Abgar Uchama the toparch to Yeshua, — Eusebius, The History of the Church, 66-67. Father Eusebius reported seeing this letter, as well as Jesus’ reply, some 300 years later, and translated them himself. Their authenticity is doubtful because both appear influenced by John’s Gospel, which was written decades after the death of Jesus. However, it is quite plausible that Jesus’ fame as a healer spread throughout the region and likely that powerful people would solicit his help, so I include this purported incident as representative. Tradition says that Jesus’ brother Juda (and/or Judas Thomas) went to Edessa after the crucifixion to fulfill the promise.

276    I’ve heard that he supports Aretas in his dispute with Herodes.” — Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, 867.

277    no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. — John 7:4.




19               To Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths.


I lived in agony throughout the journey up to Jerusalem and the first few days of the festival. Since I did not want to remain in Kapharnahum alone, I had to make everyone believe that I left Yeshu behind because I wanted so badly to go up for the celebration. While everyone else enjoyed high spirits I had to pretend to share their feelings, worried all the time about Yeshu making his way through Samaritan country alone. Then, after we arrived, I did not see him for the first few days. We had agreed to watch for each other, but secretly, and to guard against the others’ learning that he was there. Since I could not find him I naturally feared that something terrible had occurred in Samaria.

We pitched our tents in the customary place on the western slope of the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple. We had three leaders, Kefa, Yacob, and Yukhanan, but Kefa had the confidence of the greatest portion of the followers. The sons of Zebedee might find the fact disagreeable, but they recognized it very well. If there was some disagreement among the three they could not resolve by argument, Yacob and Yukhanan would always grudgingly come around to Kefa’s way of thinking.

During this journey, and the stay in Jerusalem, Yeshu’s brother Yacob began to establish a kind of authority all his own. To distinguish him from the eldest son of Zebedee, the others had fallen into the habit of calling him Little Yacob, since he was younger and smaller of stature. However, being smaller and thinner did not mean that he was frail. On the road he showed manly endurance and when the men performed some physical task he was always among the last to require a rest.

I have already mentioned that, of the four brothers of Yeshu, Yacob was the most like him. He was given to prayer and thoughtful silences, his understanding of the scriptures was second only to that of his older brother, and while he never displayed his anger the way Yeshu sometimes did you had no trouble perceiving his indignation when it came. He revealed it in his eyes and voice and the way he stood.

What I noticed on this journey was his growing maturity, his quiet wisdom and his ever-present righteousness. There were no men of low character among Yeshu’s disciples, but even they began to single out Yacob for his integrity and seek his opinion in questions of ethics.

I heard him speaking with Thomas that first night in Jerusalem. Thomas was trying to recall two parables Yeshu had used in a sermon at Kapharnahum, and he had come to Yacob. It occurred to me that there was no disciple more likely to remember and understand Yeshu’s teachings than Yacob. Yacob repeated the parables very much as I remembered them from Yeshu’s own lips, and I could see his brother in him.

Thomas was the next most likely to remember. He paid strict attention to everything Yeshu said. I often saw him repeating to people in one town things Yeshu had said in his sermons in another. Thomas cherished the profound, and it gave him pleasure to pass on wisdom to others, and he loved the puzzles imbedded in Yeshu’s sayings and parables. All of us held Yeshu in awe and were dazzled by him as a man, but that was not enough for Thomas. More than once he expressed to me his opinion that he viewed the physical man we saw as a garment—a modern robe some prophet from bygone days had wrapped around himself in order to walk among us again.

Despite Kefa’s position as first among equals and his unwavering conviction that Yeshu was God’s son, he never shared Yacob’s or Thomas’—or for that matter even Nathanael’s or Philippos’—desire to plumb the depths of Yeshu’s teachings. Kefa saw himself as the master’s right arm. Does the right arm struggle to understand what the head decides? Not if it knows that the head is wise. It is satisfied to carry out the head’s wishes.

I had grown to love Kefa over the time I had known him; at first because Yeshu had taught me how to love all men, later because I understood the heart of the man himself. Kefa might bluster and he might act before thinking through his plan, but never out of some devious intent. His heart was always pure.

Once, as we were about to leave Kapharnahum to visit a nearby village, his wife went into labor with their first child. Kefa’s first wife had died after several years of marriage without giving him any children. His second wife, too, seemed unable until she conceived at last. Kefa desperately hoped for a son. His friend and rival Yacob son of Zebedee already had two sons, the youngest born while we were in Jerusalem for my first Passover festival.

Yeshu put off our departure and we stayed in Kapharnahum and late that night the child came.

Kefa’s child was a girl. I was disappointed for him—until he came out to show us the child. Nathanael brought a lamp so that we could see and held it near Kefa’s chest. We all stared at the tiny face that peeked out at us from behind those great arms, with one ruddy cheek nestled against the wild, broad beard. Then I glanced up at Kefa. As he stared down at her, his rough features emanated that light I had seen so often on Yeshu’s face. I could feel his love as though standing before a fire on a winter night.

Every morning during the festival we would walk over to the Temple and observe or take part in the rituals. In the afternoons we would make our way back to our tents on the Mount of Olives. I constantly watched for Yeshu when we went to the Temple, and every day I grew a little more concerned when I saw no sign of him.

In the evening of the fourth day, after we had eaten our meal, Maria came near me and said, “Isn’t it a wonderful evening for a walk?”

“Yes,” I said. It was not so unusual for Maria to invite me to walk with her, but I thought I heard something unusual in her voice. Did she have something she wanted to confide?

We walked to a place just out of sight of our camp and away from fires, then stopped to gaze at the Temple. A glittering sky arched above it; a waning moon loomed behind. “You seem preoccupied tonight,” I said.

“I’m sick with worry about Passover,” she replied.

There was no point in pretending that I did not know what she meant. “He believes it is his destiny.”

“Can’t there be some other way?” she asked.

“The prophecies,” I said.

She echoed me wistfully, “The prophecies. I have the Essenes to thank for that.” She said nothing for awhile. Then, “Where were they when he woke up choking? Where were they when he stumbled near the fire learning to walk?”

I thought of how it must be for her as his mother, bearing up under the weight of maternal love, suffering for him for thirty years.

She asked, “Can’t you persuade him?”

Me? I thought. She believes he will listen to me? What can I do? “I’m sorry,” I finally said. “He doesn’t listen to me, only to the Father.”

She was silent. Then she echoed, “Yes, the Father.”

I did not know what to say after that. Nothing a woman of twenty could say would comfort a woman of her age and experience.

“You might want to go on by yourself,” she said at last. “I’ll stay here.”

I felt sorry for her and it seemed heartless to leave so soon. But if there was nothing I could say that would comfort her, perhaps it was best that she be alone with her thoughts. Then she went on to add a few words that at first sounded innocent. “Why don’t you walk on to the orchard?”

“Good night,” I said and started in that direction, not thinking but simply complying with her suggestion.

Within ten paces, however, I began to step more quickly. Why would she encourage me to walk away from our camp, alone, when it was growing dark? By the time I arrived there—the pleasant orchard of olive trees we had discovered on our visit for the Festival of Weeks—I was almost running.

I glanced among the trees, then hurried to the cave entrance, my pulse racing. It was growing dark inside, but I could see the huge mill stone they used to squeeze the first oil from the olives. I glanced around at the two oil presses, the wooden crates, the cistern, the large vats, but I could see that no one was there.

I stepped back outside and peered into the nearby trees.

Nothing. No one. I had misunderstood her.

My heart sinking, I realized that it was growing darker by the moment. I paused to clear a pebble from between my foot and my sandal and then turned reluctantly and began to walk back in the direction I had come.


I turned again and there he was, emerging from behind a tree. I ran to him and hugged him tightly. I was so relieved to know he was safe that I did not really listen to his explanation of what had happened this time in Samaria. He went on to say that after arriving in Jerusalem he had visited with friends in the city. He went to the Temple but did not make himself known, not wanting to attract attention. But with the festival now half over he felt the urge to teach, although he planned to seek out a place other than his customary area along Solomon’s Portico.

“The authorities are asking about you,” I said to warn him. We had been approached by priests on our first morning at the Temple. They knew we were Galileans and asked if Yeshu of Nazareth was with us and whether we knew if he had come to the festival.

“I know,” he said, “I have friends who are members of the Sanhedrin.”

I recalled Nikodemos from my first visit to Jerusalem. “Did your mother know you were here all along?” I asked.

“She thought I might try to come. But no, I never told her. I spied her today at the Temple and called her behind a pillar. I asked her to bring you here at sundown.”

“She’s terribly worried,” I said.

“She’s a mother.”

“She doesn’t want you to come here for Passover.”

“Tell her to rewrite the scriptures,” he said. “Tell her to speak to God.”

“What can I tell them in the camp?” I asked. “I want to stay with you.”

“Mariamne,” he said. “You know you can’t. I simply wanted to see you and to let you know that I am here.”

“Will I see you tomorrow?”

“If you can stray away from the group. Don’t look for me in the usual place. Search farther north along the colonnade. But be sure no one sees you come that way.”

The orchard was growing darker all the time, but he continued to hold me tight. He said not a word, just held me. I had the feeling that for him, who from childhood had been focused on things of the spirit, I represented the world. He wanted to cling to me the way he clung to and became fixated on the words of the Law and the prophets. Finally, however, we both knew that I had to leave. I glanced back after twenty steps, but he had already disappeared into the dark trees.

Back in the camp I passed Maria and gently squeezed her shoulder, knowing she would understand it as my gratitude. I said nothing.

When we arrived at the Temple the next morning I did nothing out of the ordinary for the first hour. Then I said I wanted to search for some friends I had made on an earlier visit and strolled off toward the south end of Solomon’s Portico. Only after I had passed behind the columns did I hurry northward.

I found Yeshu near the north end of the walkway, standing so that one of the columns blocked the view of him from the Temple compound. Even so, he had drawn a small crowd to him. I heard discussion among those who were listening to him. Some argued that he was a good man, others that he was deceiving everyone. Some who knew that he had not been trained as a scholar wondered where he got his impressive learning.

Yeshu overheard the comment and responded, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”

Someone near me muttered to a friend, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him!”

I had to keep watching the entrance to the Temple compound to know when the others might come looking for me. Before long I saw Thaddaios and Nathanael come out onto the Court of Gentiles and I knew I had to go back. I made sure Yeshu noticed me, just so he would know that I had come. As I left him someone was asking him about what the Law said regarding adultery.

I made my way back along the colonnade and, when I thought it was safe, came out toward Thaddaios and Nathanael. They had been joined by the others.

I tried slipping away later that afternoon to see him again, but he was no longer there and I did not see him again until the final day of the festival.

On that day the Temple police were there in the crowd, observing him. He was speaking in that elegant style he sometimes used and coming near to announcing himself. “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ”

The man next to me said, “This is really the prophet.”

His friend, in awe, agreed, “This is the messiah.”

I shuddered and saw the police preparing to seize Yeshu.

But this time Yeshu’s Galilean accent worked to his advantage. Another man asked, “Surely the messiah doesn’t come from Galilee, does he? Hasn’t the scripture said that the messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”

This flustered the police. They knew the man was right and could plainly hear from his accent that Yeshu was Galilean. One wanted to seize Yeshu regardless, others said it would be a mistake. Unable to make a decision, they left and went back to report to the chief priests.

I later learned from the lips of Nikodemos of the confusion that reigned when they arrived. A chief priest challenged them, “Why didn’t you arrest him?”

“Never has anyone ever spoken like this!” said one.

“Surely you haven’t been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the Law—they are accursed.”

Nikodemos posed a question, “Our Law doesn’t judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?”

The police then asked, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you’ll see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”

I remained for awhile after the police left, but once again I found it necessary to leave before I had the opportunity to speak with Yeshu. However, that evening he visited our camp and let everyone know that he had been there for the festival. He took Thaddaios and Shimon to travel with him through Samaria and sent the rest of us back through Perea.

Our numbers had grown. The group that regularly traveled with him now included over a hundred, including a dozen children. When we met back in Kapharnahum, Yeshu said that he wanted to send emissaries once more throughout the country to give the people one final chance to commit themselves to the Kingdom of God. This time he sent not twelve but seventy. They were to follow the same rules he had given to the twelve during the summer. They were to complete their work before Passover and assemble in the wilderness south of Pella, at brook Cherith, where Elijah the Tishbite had taken refuge from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.

The rest of us—Yeshu, a few disciples and the women and children—journeyed ahead to wait for them. Fearing Yeshu’s arrest by Herodes’ men, we sailed across the sea at night and landed in the Decapolis to avoid passing through Tiberias and crossing at the border.

Near Salim, the place on the Jordan River where Yochanan had labored after being warned to leave Bethany, we turned eastward. The wilderness had the form of a natural fortress. Following the brook, our progress was soon hampered by waterfalls and rugged boulders; however, struggling past them we discovered a valley encircled by steep cliffs and plentiful caves.

In that wilderness, which had once protected the great prophet Elijah, we passed the time remaining until the Festival of Lights.



281    Little Yacob, — Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus, 11.

282    Yeshu was God’s son, — To Jews of the first century, “Son of God” was not an indication of divinity but kingship. For an example, see the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV) footnote to 2 Samuel 7:14 on page 457. God is referring to David’s son Solomon when he says, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” More loosely the term was understood to refer to all Jews, collectively—the chosen ones of the house of Israel. In Hosea 11:1, God says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” See the footnote (Ibid., 1290).

282    Kefa’s first wife had died — My invention. Early church sources suggest that Peter had a daughter named Petronilla.

285    But with the festival now half over he felt the urge — John 7:14.

287    Some argued that he was a good man, — John 7:12.

287    Some who knew that he had not been trained — John 7:15.

287    “My teaching is not my own but his — John 7:16-17. (NIV)

287    “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? — John 7:25-26. (NIV)

287    what the Law said regarding adultery. — John 8:3-11. The popular story of the woman taken in adultery occurs at this point in John (“Let the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone…”). However, according to Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 65: “The conclusion is unavoidable: this passage was not originally part of the Gospel.” The Jesus Seminar agrees: “As it stands, the scene is an artificial construction.” Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 399.

288    “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, (And following) — John 7:37-52. (NRSV)

289    This time he sent not twelve but seventy. — Luke 10:1.

289    at brook Cherith, where Elijah the Tishbite had taken refuge — Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, 188. According to Tabor, modern-day Wadi el-Yabis.

290    Near Salim, the place on the Jordan River — John 10:40.

290    The wilderness had the form of a natural fortress. — Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, 187-188. Dr. Tabor surveyed the site in 1991.

290    the Festival of Lights. — Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 406. Another name for Hanukkah.



20               Final preparations, and a sign from God.


Yeshu insisted on returning to Jerusalem for the winter festival, knowing full well the risks. He said it was essential—that he wanted to make preparations for Passover. The visit proved even more dangerous than his visit for Booths. The authorities were waiting for him, anxious to confront and arrest him.

I later learned of his most harrowing moment. A group of priests closed in around him while he was walking in Solomon’s Portico and demanded, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the messiah, tell us plainly.”

Yeshu, of course, had no intention of declaring himself openly until Passover. He gave them a very careful response: “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”

He might have walked away unmolested at that point. But he went on, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

With those final words the priests were ready to stone him for blasphemy.  He defended himself by saying that if he were not doing God’s work, then they should not believe him. But if he did do God’s work, then they should believe the works whether or not they believed him. Then he antagonized them again by saying that the Father was in him and he was in the Father. This I took to mean that he recognized God inside him, that he identified God as the light that filled him and made it possible for him to see in a new way.

They tried to arrest Yeshu there and then for blasphemy, but he managed to slip out of their grasp and get away in the crowd. He fled the Temple and finished making the arrangements he needed to make for Passover. Then he returned to us at brook Cherith.

I cannot describe how relieved I was to see him back safe. Though I dreaded the coming of Passover, when he told me that he had no intention of leaving Elijah’s natural fortress until the spring festival was near I was delighted. That meant for a number of weeks we could live together in tranquility without the constant movement to and fro and the demands of crowds wanting to hear him and to be healed.

He was convinced that the great moment was to come at Passover; he was content that he had done his best to prepare for it; and he was elated to know that seventy of his disciples were out trumpeting the arrival of the kingdom of God to every corner of the nation. He said that first night back, his eyes aglitter, “I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes.”

For two months we remained in the remote valley and enjoyed our isolation and serenity. It was the nearest Yeshu and I ever had to a normal life. He left only one day each week and went back to the Jordan River to teach and heal whomever he met. When people learned this he began to be met each time by crowds of those in need right there, out in the wilderness.

He took care when returning not to be followed, but as we all know there are no permanent secrets in the world. From time to time people learned of our whereabouts and came to meet and listen to Yeshu. One man arrived prepared to join us. He said he was ready to commit himself to the coming kingdom and asked Yeshu what he needed to do.

Yeshu told him, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ”

The man assured him that he had kept all the commandments since his youth.

So Yeshu said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven.”

This left the man stunned. He was a wealthy person. As I watched him walk away, unable to give up the possessions he owned, I of course thought of Rivka.

Yeshu said to the disciples who were there, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

A little later he would say on the same subject, “No one can serve two masters. You will either hate the first and love the second or treat one with respect and the other with scorn. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Yehuda of Kerioth was one of the disciples who remained with us in our sanctuary. Because he kept the purse, Yeshu again directed him to remain behind when he dispatched the seventy. One morning, after Yeshu returned from his prayers, Yehuda came to see him. “Something has been troubling me,” he said.

Yeshu said, “Tell me.”

He was already unfastening three bags of coins from his belt. He held them up. “Will you name someone else to take care of the purse?”

My mind went back to that meeting between Andreas and Yehuda, when Andreas showed his distaste as he handed him the bag of silver donated by Yoanna, and Yehuda had glanced toward me.

“We all have unpleasant duties to perform,” Yeshu said.

“I know.”

“I have them as well as anyone else.”

“I know.”

“The measure of our loyalty to the Lord is how well we perform them.”

“Rabbi, can you say that I haven’t been loyal?”

“You have, Yehuda. I know. I value your service to our group.”

“I want to go out and help spread the good news of the kingdom.”

“The news is being spread now—as we speak.”

I understood Yeshu’s quandary. Could he assign the task to any other disciple? Who? It had to be a man; the money must be defended if someone should try to steal it. Who? Could he trust anyone other than one of his chief disciples? Which of them would take on the responsibility without seeing it as a lesser responsibility?

Yehuda stood in that way peculiar to him, with his head slightly bowed and his shoulders forward. He had to turn his eyes upward a little and to one side to return Yeshu’s gaze. “Tell me,” he said at last, “would you give me this task if I were Galilean?”

Yeshu answered, calmly, “You know me very well, Yehuda. Do you believe that matters to me?”

Yehuda glanced away, but said, “I would prefer another duty.”

Yeshu kept gazing at him. “Yehuda, how would you respond if I preferred another duty? Would you say, ‘All right, Yeshu, go on your way? Someone else will do the tasks God has set aside for you. Someone else will suffer instead.’ ”

Perhaps Yehuda thought Yeshu was toying with him. But when he looked into his eyes he knew that Yeshu was being earnest. “Is it necessary that you suffer?”

“How else can the prophecies be fulfilled?” Yeshu asked.

“Where is the victory? Kayafa is an evil man. Pilatos is as hard as stone. Will they be overcome by someone’s suffering?”

“God has his plan,” Yeshu said.

“What is it?”

“He alone knows.”

“And, according to this plan, you must suffer?”

“If it is his will.”

“Master, once more I ask—Where is the victory? Now is the time for evil to be overthrown and the new kingdom to begin. We all know it in our bones. I just don’t understand.”

Yeshu took a measured breath. “When we don’t understand, Yehuda, that is the beginning of faith.”

Yehuda could think of nothing more to say, but I could see that he was still dissatisfied. Yeshu saw it, too, and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Let this be a test of your loyalty and your faith. I trust you to keep possession of our common purse, and I trust you to wait patiently for the unfolding of God’s plan.”

Yehuda hefted the three bags of coins in his hands, as though weighing his decision. He said nothing further but finally turned and walked away.

Not long after that the seventy Yeshu had sent out began to arrive. They told stories about how successful they had been, healing and teaching and persuading people to commit themselves. One day several of them arrived in one group and Yeshu filled with excitement as he listened to so many examples of the power of God at work.

That night he awoke beside me with a start and sat up. Alarmed, I asked what the problem was. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” he said.

A few weeks before Passover, at the time all men were required to pay the annual Temple tax of one half-shekel, we traveled back to Kapharnahum, sailing across the sea. We arrived in the afternoon, and the next morning Yoanna came. She had paid a man handsomely to bring her word by horseback the moment we returned. The following dawn she sailed from Tiberias to meet up with us. She was too late to inform us of the news—that the armies of Herodes and Aretas had finally clashed. That was the talk of the market in Pella and we heard it again upon arriving in Kapharnahum. But she did provide us with more details.

Herodes had been called away to the borders of Parthia on a diplomatic mission for Tiberius. After a year of conflict over control of Armenia and a civil war in Parthia fostered by Rome, there was to be a formal agreement assuring Roman rule of Armenia in return for Roman recognition of Artabanus as king of Parthia. The emperor sent Herodes to help mediate between Artabanus and Lucius Vitellius, the newly appointed governer of Syria. The meeting took place at the center of a bridge that crossed the Euphrates River, and Chouzas had attended.

Knowing that Herodes was absent from his kingdom, Aretas seized the opportunity to attack. His army engaged the army of Herodes at Gamala.

Among the forces Herodes had assembled to fight the Nabateans were fugitives from the tetrarchy of his recently deceased brother, Philippos. They had persuaded Herodes of their loyalty to him, but as soon as the battle began they turned on his soldiers—secretly they were on the side of Aretas. With such treachery in its midst, Herodes’ army was soon destroyed.

Yoanna had no sooner finished relating this than Shimon the Zealot repeated what he had said on first hearing the news, “God has punished Herodes for what he did to the Baptizer.”

“What will Herodes do now?” Yeshu asked of Yoanna.

“Chouzas says he has written a letter to Tiberius.”

“Rome is no match for God,” Yeshu said.

“It will take weeks for a letter to reach Rome on winter seas,” Yoanna said, “and weeks more to get a response. Chouzas believes that the emperor may tell Vitellius to prepare an army this summer and strike back at Aretas in the fall.”

“But nothing will happen before Passover,” Yeshu said.

“No,” Yoanna said, “nothing will happen before Passover.”

“Abba has sent me a sign,” Yeshu said. “Divine justice for Herodes.”

I knew what else he was thinking: God had taken the first step toward his manifestation.

“So you are determined to go to Jerusalem for Passover?” Yoanna asked.


“Then, Master, may I join you now?”

“Are you ready?”

“I want to travel with you. I want to be there for the moment of victory.”

“Then, of course,” Yeshu said. “Your faith should be rewarded.” He took her into his arms and hugged her. “I’ll remember all you have done.”

“There is something else,” she said.


“More news. Worse news. From Jerusalem.”

He drew back from her to listen.

“Pilatos has taken money from the Korban.”

Shimon the Zealot and Yehuda of Kerioth cried out at the same instant. From all of the others came expressions of shock and outrage. The Korban was the Temple treasury, the donations from the faithful, the sacred fund, the wealth dedicated to God and to works in his name.

“He has to die!” Shimon declared.

Yeshu held up a hand. “What is it, Yoanna? What happened?”

“The Romans are building a new aqueduct. The city needs more water and the Romans are taking steps to bring it from the mountains. Pilatos decided that, since it was for the Jews, he would take our money to pay for it.”

“Did Kayafa agree to this?” demanded Yacob, son of Zebedee.

“The details aren’t clear,” she said. “But there was bloodshed.”

“What bloodshed? What do you mean?” Yeshu asked.

“Thousands of people began to shout at Pilatos and berate him whenever he came out in public. They threatened him while he was on his tribunal and he began to worry about his safety. So he told his soldiers to dress the way the crowd did and carry clubs hidden away under their clothing. When he gave the signal, the legionaries suddenly began to club the people in the crowd. A great number were killed, some by the clubbing but many by being trampled in the rush to escape.”

A whirlwind of rage filled the disciples. Shimon gripped the dagger on his belt without being aware of it, and he was not alone.

Later I learned why Pilatos told his soldiers to use clubs instead of swords. After Tiberius had executed Sejanus, he annulled the decree persecuting the Jews. The emperor thought the persecutions had exceeded reason and were detrimental to the empire. For the past five years Pilatos and other officials had curbed their excesses, not wanting to be called before the emperor to explain. Pilatos misjudged the savagery of his own soldiers, expecting that they would inflict pain but cause few, if any, deaths.

Shimon the Zealot still had his hand on his dagger. “Yeshu, listen, Herodes’ army has been shattered.”


“His weakness is our strength. Now is the time to call on everyone who follows you. We can take our nation back.”

Yehuda of Kerioth said, “If we succeed, we take our nation back. If we fail, we’ll at least earn honor in the eyes of the Lord.”

“Yeshu, I agree,” said Yacob, son of Zebedee. “We need to act. Herodes is the only natural ally the Romans have. They have too much territory to control. It will be a year before they can challenge us.”

“Yeshu,” said Shimon Baryona, “you said it yourself—the Lord gave you a sign by defeating Herodes’ army. Let us act. With the Lord’s help we’ll drive the Roman army into the sea.”

Confronted by the unity of emotion, Yeshu held up his hand before their excitement could mount any higher. “Who among you no longer trusts me?”

Instantly they stopped. None would respond to him.

“A hundred years ago,” he said, “a prophecy was written. The psalmist foresaw a descendant of David coming who would rid Jerusalem of evil people. But the psalmist said that he ‘will not rely on horse and rider and bow, nor will he collect gold and silver for war. Nor will he build up hope in a multitude for a day of war.’ Listen, all of you, the path you want to choose now is not the path I am supposed to follow. If you trust me, you will stay on the path with me.”

“But, rabbi—” began Yehuda of Kerioth, only to be interrupted again by Yeshu’s raised hand.

“It would be so simple now,” Yeshu said, “to take up arms against them. It would be satisfying. But it would be playing the game they know best. I ask you, are violence and bloodletting the way to peace? If the Lord wanted them destroyed, he could lift one finger and the ground would open and swallow them all. Do you want to be no better than the Romans in his eyes? No, I’m telling you that we must resist turning to violence ourselves. We must choose the harder path.”

Despite tremendous frustration, none dared to dispute with him. Shimon the Zealot turned his head and glanced aside. Yehuda of Kerioth whirled suddenly and strode away.

We sailed the next morning at dawn, back to the Decapolis and back to Elijah’s refuge, where we remained until it was time to go up to Jerusalem.

During those days a messenger arrived. He was a close friend of Ioannes, the young priest, friend of Andreas, who had come to our camp on the Mount of Olives that night bringing Nikodemos. The messenger informed us that Ioannes wanted Yeshu to know of a meeting the Sanhedrin convened to discuss him. Various elders had come forward to point out the danger Yeshu posed. He was a man unconnected with the Temple who performed marvels of healing, and he did so for no payment. He presented himself as a holy man, yet he mingled easily with sinners and the unclean, even letting them join him at table. He taught of an imminent kingdom of God in which everyone, including such outcasts, could be full partners, and there would be no high or low—all would be equal in the Lord’s sight. His philosophy and his actions were intended to sway the lowest men of Israel. His aims were subversive and there was good cause to worry that his influence would keep growing.

The priests had seen his powers at work during the Festival of Booths and the Festival of Lights. Unfortunately, he had eluded arrest then. Now the question was what to do about him when he came to Jerusalem for Passover. Shouldn’t the police be told to arrest him before he could cause trouble? Then he could be detained for the length of the feast. The political situation was extremely delicate now because of the unrest over the aqueduct. If Yeshu succeeded in arousing the crowd, might the Romans overreact and destroy the holy place and the nation?

Listening to the bickering and the lack of resolution, the high priest, Kayafa, became enraged. “You know nothing at all!” he bellowed. “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”

Of course, we all knew that Kayafa was not thinking solely of the nation. If the Romans perceived a rebellion and had to put it down themselves, then Kayafa and the other priests had proven themselves worthless. They might lose their positions and be exiled along with their families. The wealth and advantages they now enjoyed could be gone in weeks.

The friend of Ioannes reported that, swayed by Kayafa, the majority of the council now seemed committed to Yeshu’s execution. Not having that authority themselves, they were planning to arrest him on some charge that would make it a simple decision for the Romans.

The morning we left for Jerusalem I woke up sick, and my heart was so heavy that I could hardly keep pace with the others. I tried to see the way Yeshu did, that we had done our work and now the prophet must go up to Jerusalem to confront the false leaders and trust the Lord to direct events. But the burden inside me would not lift. I had two years of wonderful memories with Yeshu, but my mind was assaulted by a cascade of the darkest: the mission at Zobah cut short by Yochanan’s arrest; Yeshu’s bitter disputes with the scholars in Kapharnahum; his rejection in Nazareth by his neighbors and kin; the ghastly news of Yochanan’s beheading; our constant fear of arrest; the plunge from elation to dread the night Yeshu confirmed that he was the anointed; the report of his near capture during the Festival of Lights; now this ominous word about Kayafa, and the Sanhedrin’s decision that Yeshu must die.

I also thought of Rivka, the second mother I had left behind for Yeshu. I had departed so abruptly and I never saw her alive again. Had she spent those last months thinking me ungrateful for the years she had cared for me?

And there was the tormented childhood that had led seven demons to enter and inhabit me. How different would my life have been if I had never heard those three words out of the darkness: “Come here, child”?

We followed the road south, stopping at Scythopolis. When we arrived at the border of Perea, Yeshu drew a hood over his head and walked in the midst of the most raggedly dressed among us. None of the border guards challenged him.

We encamped in the familiar stopping place that night and continued south through Perea the next day. We should have been in wonderful spirits. We were a group of carefree Galileans in the company of the messiah heading up to Jerusalem to inaugurate the kingdom of God.


Maria and the sisters were as distraught as I was. Every time we came near to each other and sensed the mutual sadness our eyes would begin to fill with tears.

Thaddaios and Shimon kept grumbling that we should have made arrangements, if things started to go wrong, to be able to call on the aid of supporters in Jerusalem who had their own weapons.

Thomas had decided that Yeshu’s sayings and parables ought to be committed to memory. He kept approaching us all to help him recall the words Yeshu had used. To me he seemed to be treating Yeshu as some figure no longer among us.

When I linked arms with Yeshu to take some solace from him, he told me that Yehuda of Kerioth had just come to him and once more complained about being the keeper of the purse.

Then the sons of Zebedee came up to us. “Teacher,” one of them said, a bold tone in his voice, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Yeshu glared at them for their effrontery, but he said, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

Yeshu shook his head grimly. “You don’t know what you’re asking.” He asked them if they were ready to drink the cup he was about to drink. Courageous in their ignorance, they assured him that they were. Even so, he told them, to sit at his right hand or his left was not his to grant.

Andreas and Nathanael overheard the request. They grew angry at Yacob and Yukhanan and began to upbraid them. Kefa came to learn the problem. Tempers flared. To settle them all down, Yeshu had to call everyone together and remind them once again that in the kingdom to come the one who wanted to rule had first to be servant of all.

It was a long walk that day to Jericho.



292    Yeshu insisted on returning to Jerusalem for the festival, — John 10:22.

292    A group of priests closed in around him (And following) — John 10:24-39. (NRSV)

293    that he identified God as the light that filled him — I draw upon the insights of John Shelby Spong, Jesus for the Non-Religious, 263.

293    and then returned to us at brook Cherith. — John 10:40.

293    “I have cast fire upon the world, — TJS, Thomas 10. (FG)

293    he began to be met by crowds of those in need right there, out in the wilderness. — Matthew 19:1. Matthew says Jesus left Galilee and “came to the borders of Judea beyond Jordan.” Judea did not extend beyond the Jordan, so it is difficult to know where Matthew meant. The site described here would be “beyond the Jordan” but located in the Decapolis, near where John had baptized.

294    “You know the commandments: — Mark 10:19-22. (NRSV)

294    “How hard it will be for those who have wealth — TJS, Matthew 19:23-24; Mark 10:23, 25. (NRSV)

294    “No one can serve two masters; — TJS, Luke 16:13. (Q)

297    “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” — TJS, Luke 10:18. (ONT)

297    A few weeks before Passover, at the time The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV), New Testament, 34, footnote 24. Every March, all Jewish males were required to pay the annual Temple tax of one half-shekel.

298    Herodes had been called away to the borders of Parthia — Grant, The Jews in the Roman World, 111, and Smallwood, The Jews Under Roman Rule, 186.

298    Among the forces Herodes had assembled — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.5.1-2.

299    “Pilatos has taken money from the Korban.” (And following) — Josephus, Antiquities, 18.3.2; The Jewish War, 2.9.4. Josephus’ one clue to the timing of this incident is that, in the Antiquities, the very next paragraph discusses Jesus. It therefore seems likely that it is connected with him temporally. Also, at the time Jesus was tried by Pilate, men were in prison for some recent public disturbance.

300    tribunal — A seat of judgment.

300    he annulled the decree persecuting the Jews.  — Klausner, From Jesus to Paul, 21.

300    For the past five years Pilatos and other officials — Levine, Jerusalem, 292.

301    “A hundred years ago,” he said, “a prophecy was written. — Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 89. Sanders quotes from the Psalms of Solomon 17:33, a text written near the time of Pompey’s conquest of Jerusalem and one Jesus likely would have known.

302    a meeting the Sanhedrin convened to discuss him. (And following) — John 11:47-54. (NRSV) John connects this meeting with the raising of Lazarus. To The Jesus Seminar (Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 411), “all of this is the product of the evangelist’s imagination.” Regarding the resuscitation itself: “Most Fellows doubted that Jesus revived a person whom others believed to be dead…” (Ibid., 409) Since the Lazarus story is found only in John, the question must be asked: Why would Mark, who was relating Peter’s memories, fail to mention it? If Jesus brought back to life a person dead for four days, a person residing an hour’s walk from Jerusalem, only shortly before Jesus’ dramatic entry into Jerusalem, everyone attending the festival would be talking about it. The conclusion is obvious—the story was invented by John. Regarding the meeting of the Sanhedrin and the quotation by Caiaphas: These may also be invented, but they surely capture the sentiments of the authorities responsible for keeping the peace during the celebration. Regarding John’s assertion that Jesus took temporary refuge in Ephraim: “The town Ephraim mentioned in v. 54 has never been positively identified; it may be a figment of John’s imagination.” (Ibid., 411)

303    Not having that authority themselves, — The Judeans had been deprived by the Romans of the power to execute anyone, with the exception of Gentiles who entered the Temple beyond a certain point. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 24.

305    “Teacher,” one of them said, a bold tone (And following) — Mark 10:35-45. (NRSV)




21               Hosanna!                              


When we reached the outskirts of Jericho two strangers approached and asked if we were the group traveling with Yeshua of Nazareth. We learned that they had been asking that question of arriving groups for the past few days. Only then did we understand that many people were waiting to see if Yeshu would come to Jerusalem for Passover. News of him had passed quietly, as though along a subterranean stream, among those he and Yochanan the Baptizer had brought into the kingdom.

Great expectation filled the air. Signs were plentiful: the increasing numbers of those prepared for the kingdom of God; Yeshu’s success in Galilee; the horror of Yochanan’s execution followed by God’s swift punishment of Herodes; Pilatos’ seizure of the Korban for Roman use; and the spilling of innocent blood in the streets when people protested against the sacrilege. Many believers saw these as signs of the end of the age and expected divine deliverance during the festival.

Yeshu took heart from the growing awareness of him and the widespread belief that change was imminent. He expressed his elation to us in that wonderful way he had: “A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.”

The people who had been waiting for his arrival began to learn that he was in Jericho and started to gather. Some asked him for a teaching. He told them to come again the next day, on Shabbat, and he would speak then.

When he did speak that next day, he repeated many of the sayings and parables he had spoken in Galilee. He added one parable I had not heard before: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

He ended his sermon the way he always did in recent weeks. He turned his eyes toward the sky and said, “Abba, let your kingdom come.” Now, more than ever before, I felt a chill up my spine to hear that call.

Yeshu and I went for a walk around town that evening, just the two of us, intensely aware that the morning would mark the starting point of commitment. Climbing a stairway to the roof of a building, we gazed eastward across the fertile Jordan Valley to the broad swath of desert in the distance that was gradually darkening with the sunset. From out there, so the scriptures said, the Lord would come.

“Tell me,” I said, clutching his arm, “are you sure? I want to know that you’re certain.”

“We can never be certain,” he said. “We can be convinced and we can have faith.”

“But you understand all the prophecies?”

“I understand broadly. The things I don’t understand I trust Abba to make clear when the time comes.”

I could not avoid voicing my fear. “I don’t want you to suffer.”

“Everyone suffers, even those who live in palaces.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I know what you mean, but what choice do I have?”

“Of course you have a choice.”

“No more choice than Jonah. He tried to escape his destiny.”

I could think of no way to respond to that.

He wrapped his arm around my shoulders. “I expect the best; but, Mariamne, you have to be prepared for the worst.”

“How can anyone be prepared for that?” I asked.

I had more to tell him, but the satisfaction I felt right then, being alone with him, nestled within his sheltering arm, made it too much of a challenge to speak. I simply stood beside him, the two of us leaning against the stone parapet, watching the beautiful vista be swallowed by inexorable darkness.

The next morning we assembled early and prepared to begin the walk up to Jerusalem. As we were leaving Jericho—all of us, his disciples and a crowd of pilgrims who wanted to accompany us—we heard someone calling out to him. A blind beggar sitting alongside the road shouted, “Pity me, son of David, Yeshua!” Someone must have told him the news that Yeshu was passing through the city on the way to Jerusalem.

Some of our people shouted at him to be quiet, alarmed that he was openly using one of the titles of the messiah. Yeshu had always forbidden anyone to address him that way. But the man yelled all the louder, “Pity me, son of David!”

Yeshu stopped walking. He said, “Call him.”

They called to the man, “Take heart. Get up, he’s calling you.” The man threw off his cloak and jumped to his feet and shuffled toward Yeshu. They told us that his name was Bar-Timaeus.

When he came near Yeshu asked him, “What can I do for you?”

Bar-Timaeus said, “Rabbi, if only I may see again!”

Yeshu responded, “Go your way, your faith has cured you.”

Right away the blind man regained his sight, and as Yeshu turned and started forward on the road the man followed in that direction, full of gratitude.

We marched up the winding road to Jerusalem all that day. It was a tiring climb, but I thought back to the wonderful expectation I had felt two years before, when I first went up to visit the holy city. I felt just as elated as I had on that day. Then I was only a young and inexperienced woman accompanying a group of strangers; now I was at Yeshu’s side, his companion, drawing strength from that otherworldly confidence that filled him.

We continued walking through the afternoon until we came near Bethphage, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. There Yeshu sent two disciples ahead to Bethany. He told them that, right at the edge of town, they would find a tethered colt—the foal of an ass, one that had never been ridden. They were to untie it and bring it back to him. If anyone challenged them, saying, “What are you up to?” they were to say, “The Master needs him. Then he will at once send him back here.”

They entered the town and did find a tethered colt, just as he said, and some people did challenge them. They responded as Yeshu had forewarned them and the people then let them go.

When I asked him about this later, privately, he told me that he had made arrangements for the colt to be placed there when he visited Jerusalem for the Festival of Lights. This had been done by one of his followers, Shimon the leper, who lived in Bethany. His disciples, not knowing this, saw in the event some demonstration of his power to foretell the future.

Regardless, everyone familiar with Zecharyah recognized the significance. Some hurried to throw their cloaks over the colt. Yeshu climbed on its back and rode it across the summit of the Mount of Olives and down the opposite slope toward Jerusalem. There was great excitement when those who understood started telling the others. Zecharyah had foretold that when the messiah came he would enter the holy city astride the back of a foal.

The meaning was as clear as crystal—Yeshu meant to fulfill the prophecy.

Gathered in a swarm around the colt, our feelings of exhilaration mounting, we followed the winding trail down to the Kidron Valley to enter Jerusalem through the gate near the Pool of Siloam.

As residents of the city shouted the customary greeting to pilgrims arriving for feasts—“Hosanna!”—some people cut leafy branches from the fields and began to strew them in front of Yeshu. Those who had brought along palm leaves from Jericho spread them across his path. In the excitement of the moment, others even spread out their coats.

We entered the city gate as a boisterous group, following the street of the valley of the cheese-makers toward the Temple. On our left was the lower slope of the wealthy of Jerusalem; on our right the Ophel, where many of the priests lived. Everyone we passed took note of our large and noisy crowd. Many thought it was simply one more of the exuberant throngs of visitors who showed up to celebrate every Passover. Some seemed to discern that this one was different, seeing the ass Yeshu was riding and realizing how the swirling mass of people kept him at the center and made him the focus of their enthusiasm.

Yeshu dismounted to climb the Ophel to the Temple. We purified ourselves at the ritual baths and entered through the Hulda Gates.

When we came up into the Court of Gentiles, Yeshu took aside the disciples and strode the length of the Royal Portico with them, speaking to them as if to give instructions. They paused several times to peer in among the forest of marble columns at the tables and stalls of the money-changers, the pens of sheep, and the scores of cages filled with doves and pigeons. With the sun about to descend behind the palaces of the Upper City, Yeshu called everyone together and we started back toward the Mount of Olives.

We spent that night in the house of Shimon the leper.



309    “A town built on a hill — TJS, Matthew 5:14. (NIV)

310    “A man had a fig tree growing — TJS, Luke 13:6-9. (NIV)               

311    As we were leaving Jericho — TJS, Mark 10:46-52. (ONT)

311    alarmed that he was openly using one of the titles of the messiah — Schonfield, The Passover Plot, 119.

312    until we came near Bethphage, (And following) — Mark 11:1-10. (ONT) The Jesus Seminar was not able to agree on the authenticity of this version of the entry into Jerusalem, other than to say, “Jesus rode into Jerusalem on an ass as a symbolic act.” Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 120.

313    he had made arrangements for the colt — Schonfield, The Passover Plot, 119. Schonfield thought the secret arranger might have been Lazarus of Bethany.

313    one of his followers, Shimon the leper, who lived in Bethany. — Mark 14:3; Matthew 26:6. My suggestion. Concerning other followers of Jesus reputed to live in Bethany, Lazarus, Mary and Martha, the Fellows of The Jesus Seminar expressed great doubt about their historicity. Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 409.

313    he would enter Jerusalem astride the back of a foal — Zechariah 9:9.

313    the customary greeting to pilgrims arriving for feasts—“Hosanna!” — According to Carmichael, The Death of Jesus, 184: “…the Hebrew hoshia’na means ‘Save us!’ and would be reference to Psalm 118:25—‘Save us, Yahweh, save us!’ ” According to Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins, 129: “…the term undoubtedly represents a cry that Jerusalemites used to greet pilgrims coming to Jerusalem for feasts … That the original sense of the term, a cry for help addressed to Yahweh in Ps 118:25, was in the course of time lost is clear.”

313    Those who had brought along palm leaves — John 12:13. According to Funk, The Acts of Jesus, 413: “Palm trees are not common on the central ridge where Jerusalem is located; they had to be brought from the Jordan Valley around Jericho about fifteen miles away and were usually associated with the feast of Tabernacles or Booths (Sukkoth) in the fall.”

314    Yeshu took aside the disciples and strode the length of the Royal Portico, — Mark 11:11.

314    We spent that night in the house of Shimon the leper. — Mark 14:3. Jesus was in Simon’s house for the upcoming incident of the woman with the alabaster jar. It seems reasonable that he resided there during the Passion Week.



22               Cleansing the Temple.


Shimon was a leper no longer. Yeshu had healed him and forgiven him of his sins. Ever since that day, Shimon had been committed to the Lord and to being a friend of Yeshu. He allowed us to stay in his house that night and permitted the disciples and the others to raise their tents outside.

The next morning all of the men in our group looked anxious, but among them there was steadiness of purpose. Yeshu gathered everyone together and told the women they could accompany the group into the city, but they were not to go up to the Temple itself. There would be a disturbance and they might not be safe. Afterward, sick with apprehension, I drew him aside. “Yeshu, what do you intend to do?”

As usual, he did not like to reveal his plans, even to me. He simply said, “Kayafa needs to be reminded that he serves in the house of God.”

In spite of everyone being ready soon after dawn, Yeshu kept us in Bethany until midway through the morning. Then, when he finally set out toward the city, we began to attract others who had seen him arrive on the colt the day before. They were curious to know what he intended to do.

By the time we reached the Triple Gate, the men in our group must have numbered almost a hundred. I watched Yeshu disappear up the stairway at their head and later heard from Philippos and Nathanael what had happened inside.

Yeshu put his burliest disciples in charge of the key points of access to the Royal Portico. They were told to allow worshipers to pass, but to prevent anyone from entering who was using it with disrespect—such as those meeting for idle conversation, or to shorten their walk—and to keep the Temple guard at bay. By waiting until mid-morning to arrive he had made sure that the commerce taking place was at its height. The long aisles in the portico bustled with activity. Filled with righteous anger, he startled everyone by charging among the money-changers and the vendors who sold doves and pigeons and livestock. He overturned tables and chairs, scattered money bags and coin purses, and sent wicker cages tumbling across the marble floor. He had fashioned a whip out of rope, and with it he lashed at the sheep and oxen, stampeding them out of their pens into the broad court. Then, in the midst of the flying feathers and scampering animals and the mad scramble for fallen coins, he leaped upon a sturdy table. He called out across the chaos and reminded them all of the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers!” He upbraided the vendors and money-changers for taking advantage of the poor who had traveled from far off to take part in the Lord’s celebration, charging unfair prices for the animals to be sacrificed and excessive fees to change money into Tyrian shekels and half-shekels.

He had told his disciples and supporters to be ready for confrontations with the Temple guard, but their opposition was milder than anyone anticipated. The police who tried to come to the aid of the irate money-changers were met by a firm and unyielding phalanx of Galileans. When the police tried to push past them, they were met with jeers from hundreds of Temple visitors who sympathized with Yeshu’s righteous anger and agreed with his view that the Temple had become corrupt and filled with impiety. The police realized that they were outnumbered, and they had not received any instructions on how to deal with such a well-executed disruption. Some were dispatched to ask the chief priests for authority to use greater force. But the chief priests were of conflicting opinions. No one wanted to provoke bloodshed during the holy festival. Least of all did anyone want the Roman forces from the Antonia fortress to be summoned. The Romans would no doubt restore order by crushing all opposition, but the feast would be tainted for everyone if Gentiles harmed or killed Jews a stone’s throw from the Holy of Holies.

The Temple authorities had no inkling how long Yeshu might continue the disruption to make his point. They kept deceiving themselves that at the next moment he would call off his Galileans and retreat. He made no move to extend his protest beyond the area of commerce, and waiting him out seemed preferable to bringing down the wrath of the Romans in sight of God’s sanctuary.

Midday passed. Finally, after once more addressing the crowds of visitors about the impiety taking place in the holy house of God, Yeshu called his disciples together. They abandoned their posts and started back to Bethany to cheers from many worshipers.

Everyone was jubilant. The Temple authorities had been unable to respond, confronted as they were by hundreds, even thousands, of people shouting approval of Yeshu for his brazen act of piety. From those first to come out of the Temple I learned what had happened. Among them Shimon and Thaddaios were especially boisterous and animated. To them, and the sons of Zebedee, this act of open defiance signaled the first step in some general uprising Yeshu had planned. They were more than ready for what came next.

When Yeshu came down the steps I joined him. “Did you expect such success today?”

“We’ll know tomorrow,” he said, “how successful we were. They’ll convene a meeting. I expect them to decide to arrest me.”

“But you’ve aroused thousands of people. Tonight they’ll spread the word.”

“Tomorrow the tables will be back in the same places. Tomorrow they’ll have all of their men standing guard. This was only symbolic. But we need those with the eyes to see to understand that these sacrifices are polluted. The brothers are right.” I knew that by the brothers he meant the Essenes, who stayed away from the Temple because of the corruption and believed that the sacrifices meant little to the Lord if they were offered by hearts not committed to righteousness and blameless behavior.

“The new kingdom will have a new way to honor God,” Yeshu said, without explaining.

Suddenly the imminence of that new kingdom sent a shiver through me. “Yeshu, it’s only a few more days.”

He had no reply. He merely took my hand as we kept climbing the mountain.



317    Filled with righteous anger, he startled everyone by charging — TJS, Mark 11:15-17; John 2:13-15. (NRSV)

317    to change money into Tyrian shekels and half-shekels. — Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, p, 194-195. Tyrian silver coins were the only coins accepted at the Temple, because of their consistent purity—guaranteed to be 95% pure silver.

319    The brothers are right.” — Wise et al, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 116.




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