by W. R. Sander
The life of Christ, as seen through the eyes of the children that witnessed it.
|Talmid - The Book of John
Copyright 2014 by W. R. SANDER
A Boy's Life
"Winnowing fork ... threshing floor ... unquenchable fire ... winnowing fork ... threshing floor ... unquenchable fire."
The stranger drew in a sharp breath between each disjointed phrase. His sudden appearance startled John as he sat on an enormous boulder on the edge of the path leading to the deep desert. The figure lurched along with surprising speed. Grateful the setting moon was to his back, and certain the stranger could not see him, he jumped silently off the large rock. His slender frame made hardly any noise as it hit the sandy ground. Bracing himself for a quick escape, John eased his head above the boulder for a second look.
The man swayed as he moved, his large frame faltering as he navigated the uneven path. Dried mud and twigs spotted his disheveled black hair, also liberally coating his beard. A leather wineskin hung from a thick brown belt about his waist. The dried mud caused his stiff robe to chase his movements. Robe was not quite the right word. It looked like he wore the skin of a camel. His bare feet and calves were thick with a combination of dust and mud.
As he passed, John let out a sigh of relief.
The stranger stopped suddenly and held his breath as an archer sighting quarry.
John prayed, Adonai, protect me.
The man hesitated only a moment, and then, returning to his chant, continued into the city.
The man looked familiar, but John could not place a name to the face. He knew he was not one of the townspeople, or a Roman, or any of the other foreigners living in his country.
So startled was he at the man's sudden appearance, it took him several minutes before deciding to head back into town. Only when the first rays of the morning sun had completely cleared Mount Korazim did he dislodge himself from the rock, certain the stranger would not return. As he followed the path into the city, the name came to him.
Yochanan had returned.
John's eyes darted as he tried to detect movement on the darkened streets. A shadowy figure stood alone by the town well. John adjusted his path to hide his approach, but soon realized his fear was unfounded. The person at the well was too small to be the stranger.
"Is he here?" John asked.
The young girl wore a faded blue full-length tunic, with the yellow sand pasted to its hem, and a white veil covering all but her eyes. She unlatched the veil, allowing it to drop alongside her head. If his appearance startled her, she did not show it. "Is who here?"
John strained to see in the dim sunlight as he continued to scan the still streets. He saw no movement and relaxed, believing they were alone.
"Myriam, I was up on the path out of the city, you know, the one we take to go down to the river. I saw a big man coming in from the desert. I don't know what he was doing out there at night, but I didn't want to find out."
"Somebody was out in the desert all night?"
"Who was it?"
John paused a moment, considering his next words. He knew how Myriam would respond to the news. "It was Yochanan."
Myriam stopped fidgeting with the bucket she had brought to fetch water, and her eyes grew wide in excitement. "He's back? Are you sure?"
"It was him. He looked far worse than the last time he was here." John thought back to their last encounter with the stranger. Yochanan had been preaching on the steps of the Temple. His manners were bizarre, to say the least. He gestured wildly as he spoke, and his comments made no sense. John never understood why Myriam and the others so readily sought to listen to him.
"Did you see which way he went?"
"No, I was so startled I just jumped out of his way. I didn't want to talk to him, so I hid behind a rock."
"What were you doing out on the path, anyway?"
John was not sure how to explain it to her. Because I like to get away by myself? She would not understand that. "I woke up early this morning and couldn't get back to sleep. I thought a walk under the stars might tire me out."
Myriam picked up the empty bucket and prepared to leave.
"Where are you going?" John asked.
She gave him a disbelieving look. "To find Yochanan, of course."
John reached out and grabbed her upper arm, preventing her from leaving. "I really wish you wouldn't. You should have seen him. He was covered in dirt and filth. And he was talking strangely, as if possessed by a demon."
Myriam tore away from his grip. "Don't you say that. Yochanan is a good man, sent by Adonai, God."
John tried to think of something he could say to stop her. "He's a false teacher. You should go to Temple and follow the teachings of our rabbis."
Myriam snorted her disapproval. "All they talk about is old, dead legends. When will they help us with our real needs? All they care about is their own wealth and standings. I'm surprised you listen to them at all."
Now it was John's turn to become defensive. "You need to repent. You don't know what you're talking about."
Myriam lifted the empty bucket and replaced her veil. She reached out with a lithe hand and touched John's cheek. "You are so trusting of what they teach. I know it's your desire to become one of them, but I pray you will not become like them."
John furrowed his brow in confusion.
"Go to the Temple and learn Scripture. But don't use it to keep others in chains, as they do. Open your eyes and heart and see if you really think Adonai would want us to behave as they do."
She walked into the city, heading towards the Temple. Her comments confused John. The priests he knew were great men. His only prayer was that one day he could take his place among them.
With the morning sun already full upon the sky, John returned home to begin his work before Temple. He hooked up the family donkey to the cart that carried the daily load of fish from the docks to the marketplace, allowing his family to generate a meager living.
Things had been different five years ago when his father was still alive and one of the greatest fishermen their town had ever seen. But after his father's death and with the arrival of his brother, John's uncle and now stepfather, things had taken a hard turn for his family. His mother spent her days between the market, trying to make a profit on the fish his uncle purchased, and this home, which had lost all of its laughter.
He checked inside, but his mother had already left to set up their market stall. The only sound he heard was the gentle breathing of his little brother David, asleep.
John was glad to hear him asleep. It was only when he was asleep that his stepbrother had any peace from the torments that plagued him his entire life.
Pale light streamed past the mountains as the sun rose even higher into the early morning sky. Fine sand blew in from the west, from Korazim, littering the streets of his town, K'far-Nachum, and it coated John's feet and sandals. The cart left light marks in the road as he navigated through the streets to the shoreline of the sea.
The Sea! Well, that is what the townspeople called it. In truth, it was Lake Kinneret. The Yarden River, which began its journey seventy-five miles to the north on the slopes of Mount Hermon, flowed into and fed it from the north, and the Yarden continued its journey through Y'hudah from the southern end of the lake, eventually ending at the Sea of Salt. Lake Kinneret had been the lifeline of his town for centuries. The fish caught there fed thousands all across northern Y'hudah.
As he navigated the steep road to the waterfront, the morning sun illuminated about two dozen fishing boats making their way to the shore. They were of all sizes, some large, some small, some with oars and others with sails. Several had already docked and off-loaded their catch, and John had to maneuver his cart around several other merchants heading up the road to market.
John pulled up to one small boat as two men worked to secure it.
A large man with dark hair, a dark complexion, and an even darker attitude stood on the docks by the bow.
"Where have you been?" the man bellowed. "They've already docked. You're lucky these fish are still alive, or it would be you I'd be bringing to market to sell."
Trying to ignore his uncle as the man cursed him, he looked into the hold of the boat. From the amount of fish, he could see the night's catch had been good.
John called out, "Papa, I will have the fish to market shortly." He hated calling the man by his father's name, but if his uncle's demands were not met, John knew it meant another beating.
Without waving, the man turned as he walked up the shoreline into town.
John loaded baskets of fish into the cart.
"How do you stand him?" a voice asked from across the water.
A man secured his boat at the dock. John recognized him and smiled. He was Shim'on, one of John's oldest memories. While John's father was still alive, he had taken Shim'on in as an apprentice, at twelve, like John was now. John's father taught him all of his tricks for catching fish, and after his death, Shim'on bought his father's boat. Now, Shim'on had become the finest fisherman their town knew. His arms were as thick as John's thighs, and his beard was full and black. Stripped to the waist, he coiled one of the fishing ropes. The morning sun glistened off the sweat clinging to his bare chest.
"The Torah says I must respect him."
The man snorted a laugh. "But it doesn't say you must like him, eh?"
John smiled but said nothing.
"I grieve for you. If you ever want to leave your father--"
"He is not my father," John barked in anger. "He is my uncle. He married my mother. That may make him my stepfather, but he will never be my father." John knew Shim'on was just speaking politely about his uncle, but the thought that anyone could mistake that man for his real father made him angrier than his uncle in a room full of crooked tax collectors.
Shim'on's smile diffused the situation. "I'm sorry. I meant no disrespect to your father's memory. I loved him too. I only meant that I am always looking for hard workers."
Now it was John's turn to laugh. "I may have to sell fish, but I'd never want to catch them," he admitted. "No, if I do leave, it will be for good. If I do go, it will be somewhere far away, somewhere special." John loaded the last of the catch into the cart.
The man reached out with one of his enormous hands and playfully tussled John's curly black hair. John pulled back from him, partially because of the strong odor of fish and partially because he really did not want the man touching his head. "You are a good boy," Shim'on said. "I have no doubt you will grow into a fine man." He reached into his bag and pulled out a lepton. "Here, take this and buy yourself something." He offered John the coin.
John accepted it, and placed his hand to his chest as if to protect his new wealth. "Thank you, sir. Thank you." A broad smile crossed his face.
"Boy, those fish will go rotten if you don't get them to your mother!"
His uncle's voice startled John, especially since he thought his uncle would be halfway into town by now.
"If I lose all my money because you don't have the common sense to get fresh fish out of the morning sun--"
"I'm going now," John said.
John led the donkey off the dock.
"Worthless fool. He hasn't a wit in his skull..." John heard his uncle mutter as he walked off into the distance.
Someday I'll show him.
John delivered the fish to market, and walked down the dusty streets towards the Temple. It was the largest building in their town, set almost in the center. He could see its clay roof and stone columns, even though several buildings impeded his path to its doors.
There were several children standing outside the door to the Temple schoolroom. John saw Andrew, Shim'on's brother, who was sixteen, and his friends Ya`akov and Yochanan, the sons of Shim'on's partner Zavdai. Like him, they were twelve years old and entering into the final months of their Temple studies. But unlike John, they were not very good students and the best they could hope for was to apprentice to a fisherman and join their father in the fishing trade. While they had been his tormentors for the last five years, he felt pity on them that they would grow up to know such a difficult life. Still, John tried to place some children between him and the boys, hoping they had not noticed him.
Then he recognized the faded blue tunic he had seen this morning.
"Myriam," said John, as he walked up to her. "Did you find him?"
Myriam shook her head. "He is not in the Temple, or on the streets. No one has seen him but you. Are you sure it wasn't a ghost?"
John nodded. "He's here, somewhere." He decided to change the subject. "Look what I have." He held out the coin in his palm.
Myriam held out her hand and he dropped the coin in. "Where did you get this?" she asked.
"From one of the fishermen my uncle does business with."
"Why you, why not to your uncle?"
"I don't know. I think because he is my uncle."
Myriam giggled. "If that's the reason, he should have given you double."
John smiled. He had always found it easy to talk to her.
"What are you going to do with it?"
He had not thought about it. "I don't know. What would you do?"
"If I had this much money, I would buy a donkey and travel far from this little town. I would move to a faraway city, maybe even as far as Yerushalayim, where I could be somebody, somebody different."
"Myriam, it's not a lot of money."
Myriam had a far off look in her eyes that meant she was not listening. "John, maybe this money is a sign from Adonai. Maybe we should do something with it. Let's do something right now."
"I don't think Adonai intends for us to skip Temple."
"How do you know what God intends?"
John feared she would begin one of her long rants on the meaning of Scripture, a conversation they had too often in the past. For years, after school, they would sit on opposite sides of the wall that separated their homes and discuss in depth the studies each had completed that day. Unlike the boys in his class who delighted in the end of lessons and the opportunity to play, she shared his desire to understand what Adonai had written down and what it meant. And John had always been amazed at her ability to argue Scripture and its meaning with him. She was actually far better at interpretation than many of his classmates. It was too bad that when her schooling was over, she would not be allowed to continue in her studies, as he hoped to do. Instead, she was expected to marry and raise a family.
"I don't feel like going to Temple today," she continued. "Let's do something fun."
"What do we have here?" Ya`akov sneered. "Fishface and his girlfriend?"
"Just leave us alone," said John.
"Just leave us alone," Ya`akov repeated in a high-pitched squeal, trying to sound like a girl. "I don't think we can do that. We don't like having filthy fish carriers stinking up our Temple."
These boys had picked on John for five years. It all started when he was seven and didn't join his father on the boats like other boys his age. Neither did it help matters that they were also a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier.
Ya`akov grabbed John and pushed him into Andrew. Before John knew what was happening, they were pushing him faster and faster in their little circle.
"LEAVE HIM ALONE!" The voice boomed off the walls of the buildings. The pushing immediately stopped. John fell to the ground.
John turned to see where the voice had come from. He was relieved to see his best friend Philo approaching. Philo was well built, even bigger than Shim'on. His curly black hair was cut in the Roman style, and his arms were large and muscular. John had seen Philo only fight once, and he had so dominated his opponent that no one had ever thought to challenge him again. Even though Philo was six years older than him, they had been friends from the moment John had entered the Beth Sefer, as he helped Philo with his studies.
"Why, are you going to fight all three of us if we don't?" Ya`akov asked, although the tone of his voice showed he was scared.
Philo walked right up to Ya`akov's face until their chests almost touched then looked down at him. "I don't have to fight all three, just you."
The boy swallowed hard and took two steps back, never taking his eyes off Philo. His friends stayed safely behind him. "We don't want any trouble. We were just playing with him."
"The next time you 'play' with him, I won't give you any warning. Now get into class or maybe I'll start 'playing' with you."
The boys took three steps backwards, and then turned and started to walk away. Philo stomped on the ground as if he was coming after them, and they burst out running.
Philo laughed as he offered John his hand to help him to his feet. "Thank you for saving me, again," John said.
Philo shook his head. "For someone who lifts fish every morning, you need to build some muscle."
John smiled at his friend. "He will guard the steps of his faithful, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. For it is not by strength that a person prevails."
Philo seemed confused. "Y'hoshua?" he asked, his voice betraying his lack of certainty.
John shook his head. "No, Sh'mu'el."
Philo just looked on in disbelief. "I don't know how you do that," he said. "My father and Gamli'el are the only rabbis I know capable of remembering Scripture the way you do."
"When I close my eyes, it's like I can see the scrolls before me, and I just read them."
Philo let out a low whistle. "That would be so helpful."
"Why aren't you in class?" Philo asked.
"I was headed there when those boys showed up."
"My father is sending me on an errand," said Philo.
John knew if his father sent him on an errand, it had to be important. Philo was the son of Kayafa, the religious leader of this entire area.
"Someone from Rome is arriving this morning. I need to bring him to see my father. Do you want to join me?"
"Who's coming to see your father?" asked Myriam.
Philo furrowed his brow, and gave a quick smirk as if dismissing her question. "Not that it's any of your concern, but it is a Roman on official business."
The mention of the garrison made John nervous. Their town had been under Roman occupation for years, from well before he was born. Still, no one was comfortable with it. He knew that many, though not all, of the Roman soldiers stationed there hated their assignments and took out their frustrations on the local townspeople. Philo himself had been beaten by a Roman soldier many years ago for the crime of walking on the same side of the street. Other townspeople who had tried to stand up to their tyranny were treated similarly; or worse, just disappeared. No one walked near the garrison without a reason.
"I don't want to go there," said Myriam.
"I didn't ask you," said Philo. "It would be best if you went inside."
Myriam crossed her arms in anger, and then spun around without saying a word. She walked away at a brisk pace, as if trying to put distance between herself and the boys.
"You really should be nicer to her," said John.
"Why? She's your friend, not mine."
"Still, I don't think you're setting a good example when you act like that."
John could not believe Philo did not know his actions were hurtful.
As Myriam disappeared from view, John felt sad, even if it was for the best. He did not want to provoke the Roman soldiers in any way. He knew, being with Philo, he would be safe. Probably.
The Official's Visit
They turned a corner. At the end of a long street, John saw white walls about ten feet high. A black iron gate blocked the entrance into and out of the building. On either side stood several Roman soldiers loosely holding on to their long spears, unconcerned with any danger the townspeople might pose. Through those gates, in the darkness of the trees in the courtyard, stood the garrison. John paused at the sight, then quickly caught up to Philo, who had not broken stride.
Huddled against the walls, Roman soldiers wore their short military skirts, metal-studded sandals, and shin guards. Red cloaks hung from their shoulders, allowing them to fall from their frames as a loose-fitting garment. The emblems that signifyed their rank were attached to their outer garments. Short bronze swords hung from their belts.
The gates were crowded with Jews and Roman officials alike. As Philo approached, he motioned to a guard. "I am Philologus. I have been sent to lead the Roman visitors to the home of the High Priest Kayafa." One guard checked a manifest of names then signaled his colleague without making a sound. The gate was opened, and Philo and John moved through the crowds and entered the main courtyard. Where the morning sun beat down upon it, it was empty. Romans and Jews serving the Roman Empire sat in the shade of the sprawling olive trees along the edge of the wall. Each tax collector had a seat and a table. Upon the worn tabletops sat scales and papyrus, the tools used to determine the taxes required for their Roman occupiers. The Jewish merchants wore solemn expressions as they stood in silent lines to pay their tributes to the tax collectors. The mood was quiet, the opposite of the noisy marketplace.
John saw his uncle at a table, arguing with a tax collector. "Five shekels for tribute on six baskets of fish?" he complained. He placed his hands on the table and bent to eye level with the official. "Levi, Levi, my old friend, why are you doing this to your own people? This tax is tantamount to blackmail. I beg you, don't do this."
"I'm sorry, but the amount is correct." Levi offered the receipt slip. "Tele?."
John recalled the first time he had heard a tax collector utter the phrase. He was with his father, who had included him on a visit just a week before he died. He remembered asking his father why the man said that. "It's a Greek word," his father told him. "In the common tongue, it means, 'It is finished.' The tax collectors have to say that at the end of a contract to say the debt was settled, that the bill had been paid in full." It was funny how he remembered that now.
Uncle seemed not ready to give up his case. He continued to talk, drawing the attention of the Roman soldiers. Two walked over to see what the disagreement was. "Is everything all right?"
Startled at the sudden appearance of the soldiers, Uncle stared at them, and then withdrew his argument and placed the appropriate coins on the table. He reached out and yanked the receipt from the tax collector's hand.
As he turned to leave, the guards relaxed and returned to their conversations.
Philo moved to one corner of the courtyard, and passed through the doors into the submagistri's office, John following right behind.
The room was dim compared to the bright sunlight of the courtyard. John opened his eyes wide trying to get a better sense of his surroundings.
Though large, the room had very little furniture. A wooden desk took up one wall nearest the window. A woven rug covered most of the dirt floor. The only chair in the room was for the use of the submagistri seated at the table. Other than an unlit lamp stand, there were no other furnishings. A door on the far wall opened into an adjacent room, but it was too dark in there for John to make out anything.
The submagistri looked up from his table. "Yes, what is it?"
Philo stepped forward to deliver his well-practiced line. If he was nervous before such an important man, he did not show it. "Long live Caesar! My name is Philologus. I have been sent by my master to lead our esteemed guests to the home of the High Priest Kayafa." Philo bowed his head in reverence to the official.
John knew better than to interrupt the official greetings. He was not an official member of the party, just an invited guest.
Several men emerged from the adjacent room, one dressed in the simple toga marking him as a Roman citizen. He stepped forward. "Long live Caesar. I am Sergius Paulus, praetor of Judea from the Roman garrison in Yerushalayim."
John stifled a giggle at how the man pronounced the city's name. Although his Roman accent was thick, he tried to intone as a Jew would. John did not expect that from a Roman official.
"I have been sent with an important message from Valerius Gratus, curator in Judea for the Roman Empire and Tiberius Caesar, to Kayafa, High Priest of the Jewish peoples in settlement about Lake Kinneret." Sergius spoke the formal greeting in a low voice, with much rising and falling in tone, as if reciting some grand speech. He did not return the bow of Philo.
"This is my friend, John."
"Who?" demanded the Roman.
Philo bowed his head in apology. "I mean, Yochanan, son of Elioenai of Yerushalayim."
The Roman took no notice of John.
It had been a long time since John had heard his name pronounced so formally. Ever since he could remember, his mother and friends had called him John.
"Come, follow me, and I will lead you to my father's house."
The party walked in silence as they navigated the narrow streets. It was mid-morning, and a crowd of perhaps two hundred people stood at the steps to the synagogue.
A man stood on the upper step, speaking in a loud voice, waving his arms to emphasize each point. He did not speak in Greek, the common tongue used by the townspeople, but in traditional Aramaic. He ignored the questions and calls of the crowd. It was almost as if he was talking to himself with two hundred eavesdroppers listening in.
Paulus stopped. "Who is that individual and what is he saying?"
Philo seemed reluctant to answer. "His name is Yochanan."
"That is Yochanan?" the Roman said. "I've heard of him, but he is not what I expected. He doesn't look important. Where does he live?"
Philo stood with a blank look on his face. "I... I don't know that he lives anywhere."
"He has no home, no place he retires to at night?" His eyebrows arched up in amazement.
"I saw him this morning coming in from the desert on the outskirts of the city," offered John.
Paulus ignored the comment and went back to staring at Yochanan. "What is he saying?"
Philo listened. He hesitated to translate Yochanan's words. "He is speaking of the Hebrew prophecy of a redeemer."
"What is he saying?" Sergius asked again, emphasizing the first word with authority.
Philo swallowed and bowed his head in shame. "Forgive me, praetor, he is saying, 'After me is coming someone who is more powerful than I--I'm not worthy even to bend down and untie his sandals.' It is an ancient Hebrew prophecy." Philo let his voice trail off without further explanation.
Paulus looked at Philo, and then at John. "Do the people believe this? Do they believe this one will free their land from the Roman Empire?"
Philo did not offer a response.
"That is the prophecy," said John.
Paulus snorted. "Prophecy..." he said, under his breath, and resumed his walk.
John opened the gate to the courtyard and saw Philo's father, Yosef Kayafa, Cohen Hagadol of the Pharisees in Galil, stood at the door to his home waiting for his expected visitor. Apparently, this visitor was most important, for he was dressed in his finest priestly garments. He wore a blue robe with no sleeves, but only slits in the sides for the arms to come through. A trim of blue, red, and crimson pomegranates decorated the bottom, with a bell of gold between each one. He wore a turban of dark blue with a thin gold plate on the front engraved, "Holy to the Lord," fastened with a dark blue cord. He stroked his recently groomed black beard. Other members of the Council stood with him.
Philo stepped aside to allow Sergius to enter the gardens past the front gate.
"Long live Caesar. I am Sergius Paulus, praetor of Y'hudah from the Roman garrison in Yerushalayim."
"Long live Caesar. I am Yosef Kayafa. These are my colleagues." Kayafa introduced many members of the Council, but the only ones John recognized were his teacher, Ya'ir, and one other, Nakdimon.
All the men greeted the praetor with "Long live Caesar," then Kayafa invited Sergius into his home. All removed their sandals and stood before the door. Philo rushed forward and poured cool water on the men's feet, cleansing them. Only upon completion of the ritual did the men enter.
Afterward, John stood with Philo alone in the courtyard.
"I wonder what this is all about," said Philo.
"This Roman has come a long way, and he doesn't seem too happy to be here." Philo moved quickly but cautiously through the house towards the back. "Come on, follow me." He disappeared around the corner.
As John crept along, he saw Philo climbing a tall olive tree in the backyard. He crawled onto a thick branch hanging above a window, and then waved to John, who crawled up after. Philo motioned to him to keep silent. "If we are caught, my father will have both of us crucified," he said.
While they could not see anyone, they could hear voices.
"We have put up with your kind and your religion for decades," Sergius was saying. "We do not object to your temples, but when we hear one of you is plotting to overthrow Rome, we must not stand idle."
"Proconsul, no one is plotting to overthrow Rome," argued a voice that sounded like Kayafa's.
"Then why do your people look for a king to rule? I have been from one end of these lands to the other, and in every settlement I visit, your people stand idly by as usurpers and crazed men tell them of a coming king. Who is this king?"
"My lord, our people may have no nation of their own, but our ways are handed down to us by our fathers and their fathers of old. What you speak of is but one part of our life. Our Tanakh says,
Adonai will raise up for you a prophet like me from among yourselves, from your own kinsmen. You are to pay attention to him.
"It is a redeemer, a mashiach, who will release us from our bondage."
"So, you freely admit this, then?" asked Sergius.
As John leaned closer to hear their conversation, he slipped on the branch. Philo grabbed him and pushed him firmly back against the tree. "Be more careful," he said under his voice.
"Thank you," was all that John could whisper back.
Kayafa's voice was quiet and soothing. "Proconsul, this person is spoken of in our writings. He could come today, he could come tomorrow, or he could not come for a thousand years. No true worshipper wastes time on such searches. To spend time searching for a mashiach would neither add nor detract from my daily religious life."
Sergius sounded puzzled. "Then why? Why do your people spend so much time wasted on such a search? As I was led here, I saw hundreds listening to yet another lunatic. I have seen him before. He has stood in the streets of Yerushalayim, he has been seen around Y'hudah, and draws people to the Yarden River. Large crowds follow him. What power does he have over your citizens?"
"Because people need him. Forgive me, Proconsul, but our people have been under the rule of others for so long. Their desire is to live again as free men some day. To believe in a leader, even a leader they may never see, gives them hope."
Sergius stuck his head out of the window, taking in the courtyard view. John held his breath. If Sergius happened to look up, he would catch two very large birds sitting in an olive tree.
Sergius' head disappeared back into the house, and John heard Philo release his breath, too.
"Rome will never permit a ruler of Jews to come to power," said Sergius. "If these people believe in one, even one who does not exist, they become a threat. We do not care for your wants and desires. We care only that peace stays in this area and those whom we rule fulfill our needs."
"Peace is in our lands. These people pose no threat to the armies of Rome," pleaded Kayafa.
Sergius laughed. "No threat to Rome? I would hope not. Yet, with the right words, one lunatic can raise an army. It would be suicidal to attack Rome. We would spill much blood. We do not desire this."
"Neither do we, praetor," agreed Kayafa.
"Allow me explain why I am here. There is a man in these parts, a man named Yochanan. He has traveled up and down the Yarden River, speaking to anyone who will listen to him that this mashiach, this ruler of the Jews is coming. Are you aware of this?"
"We have heard of him, but not of his wanderings. He came through here a few months ago."
"And you did not arrest him?"
"For what, Proconsul?"
Sergius sighed. "For inciting your people! For telling them that they can look to someone besides Rome to meet their needs. As I was brought here, I saw him spreading his teachings. Many people have taken his word as truth. There have been several skirmishes between our soldiers and townspeople. He is preparing your people for war. This is why Gratus dispatched me. The governor of Y'hudah has grown tired of his rants. The time has come for us to silence him. You must dissuade the people from listening to this man. You must disperse these crowds and get them to return to their homes. You must keep them from gathering together in the first place."
"I must?" asked Kayafa incredulously. "My lord, if I may ask, why me?"
"Because," replied Sergius, "if you don't, we will. You are their religious leader, are you not? They will listen to you."
"I do not want to see the armies of Rome attack this or any other town." Kayafa sounded very uncomfortable. "However, we have had many of these types before. Some time ago, there was a rebellion under Todah. He claimed to be somebody special, and maybe four hundred men rallied behind him. Upon his death, his whole following broke up and it all came to nothing. Another one, Y'hudah HaG'lili, led an uprising back at the time of the enrollment for the Roman tax. He got some people to turn form their teachings and follow him. But he too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.
"In this present case, Proconsul, my advice to you is not to interfere. Leave these people alone. If this idea or this movement has a human origin, it will collapse."
"Nonetheless," replied Sergius, "we want him stopped, now." Sergius' tone said the discussion was over and it was time to finish this task. "If you do this, if you succeed, my superior is prepared to offer you the presidency of the Sanhedrin in Yerushalayim."
Philo gasped. "Presidency of the Sanhedrin!" he whispered to John. "He would preside over the Temple in Yerushalayim, and distribute the money. He would have supreme religious and civil authority. He would be the head of all Y'hudah!"
"My father-in-law, Anan, already sits at the head of the Sanhedrin," said Kayafa. "The high priest has been chosen for life. How can this happen?"
"With Rome, all things are possible. We will allow Anan to remain as high priest jure divino, and he will have authority in spiritual matters, while you, Kayafa, will be the official pontiff recognized by Rome. Anan will be the high priest while you will hold the office. Do you accept?"
"You come in the name of Gratus, curator in Y'hudah for the Roman Empire, yet isn't the governor of Y'hudah someone named Pilate, responsible for the makeup of the Sanhedrin?"
"I'm impressed," said Sergius. "I was not aware you were so knowledgeable of our leader's comings and goings."
"I make it a point to know what happens in Yerushalayim. Will the governor honor Gratus' offer?"
"He will," said Sergius.
Kayafa remained silent for several moments. "I cannot be bought with appointments," he began, pausing as if carefully choosing every word. "However, I am well aware of the dangers this man poses to the children of Y'hudah. I will take measures against this man and anyone else who teaches this prophecy."
"On behalf of Rome, we welcome any assistance you offer."
John and Philo scurried down to the lowest branch and jumped out of the tree, making it to the courtyard moments before Paulus exited the house. The Council members bid him farewell from the doorway.
"May I escort you back to the garrison, praetor?" offered Philo.
The Roman officer grunted as he shook his head. "I can find my way." He left through the gate and disappeared from sight.
"Do you think Rome will invade?" John asked.
"I don't know. I wouldn't put it past them."
John tried to imagine what it would be like to have Rome send armies against them. True, they did have soldiers at the garrison, but they were a small group. If the citizens of K'far-Nachum organized and really chose to rise up against them, the soldiers would not be able to hold them off for long.
A Roman army, though, was a different thing. John had heard tales of their armies laying waste to whole towns in their wars, leaving not one stone atop another. He shuddered to think what such an army might do to his town. As much as he desired to leave it, he did not want to see it destroyed.
"You heard what Yochanan said on the steps. Do you think he's trying to raise an army?"
"I doubt it. But it doesn't matter. If Rome says he's a problem, then he's a problem. My father will have to silence him now."
John shook his head. "It's not right, Rome telling us what to do to our own citizens."
Philo scoffed at him. "Don't tell me you're going to defend that heretic."
"Of course not. He doesn't speak as our teachers do. I just don't think he should be 'silenced'--whatever that means."
"What that means," said Philo, puffing out his chest as he assumed an air of authority, "is my father will give him one choice: stop preaching or face arrest. If he doesn't choose wisely, he'll be imprisoned."
John nodded, although deep down he did not understand why everyone was so upset. This Yochanan was only one man, and not very likely a military genius. John suspected everyone was making a big deal about nothing.
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