First two chapters of a novel set in First Century Judaea, Galilee and Samaria
|Chapter 1 - set in First Century Galilee
"What use are you to me, if you will not marry this man. His father is our biggest customer!"
Her father had said this, red with rage and shaking her by the shoulders. The memory of his angry words still brought tears to Eva's eyes.
"You spend all your spare time reading or writing those bible scrolls of yours. You have grown pale from lack of sunshine and you have a permanent ink stain on your fingers. No man is interested in a woman that can spell. He wants babies and hard work from you."
"Have I not helped you in your business daddy? I do all the accounts for you and all your bills of sale also. Have I not done the things you asked me to do? Did you not raise me to believe in God. I love the scriptures."
"There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I doubt if your new husband would let you do the accounts like I have. As for the scriptures, you already know them better than your brothers, and all the languages of our time to boot. You have your own copy of the Septuagint taken from our own. So why are you still writing? What else could you possibly need to learn or write down? Too much study is off-putting to a man. Most women cannot read or write and you are competing against them. He is not going to want you in bed if he thinks you're judging him or writing a story about him, in your head, that he is not educated enough to understand. If you are too religious no man will ever want to sleep with you and I will never get any grandchildren. You are already getting past the age. Anyway you need to marry this man to secure the contract."
"What! You are selling your own daughter for a business contract?"
"That is not what I said, but you are going to do as I say Eva"
"No, I am not going to marry that man, he is fat, ugly and all he ever talks about is money, he bores me too tears every time we speak."
Her father had struck her across the mouth for those words.
With the tears still stinging her eyes Eva noticed that the camp fire was getting low. She rose and placed some more wood on the fire. Jesus, his disciples, and the women who traveled with him were all soundly asleep. She smiled, as she remembered the first time that they had met, at a wedding, in nearby Cana. The scene passed through her mind, as if it were just yesterday
"Who is that?"
Eva asked, pointing at the man who had just entered the house, with a large following behind him.
"That is Jesus bar Joseph from Nazareth." replied the host. "He's a second cousin of the bride, I think. Though honestly, I do not know half the people here, or most of those that just walked in with him, and the numbers are way more than I thought would come".
Jesus sat down, and soon a group formed around him, attentive to any word he said, and pushing in, as if keen to hear him, over the noise of the party, all around.
Eva made sure she sat near him also to see why people seemed so interested in him and became hooked herself by the man. Jesus's presence dominated the room. It was not the pretentious gravitas of the Pharisees. He would laugh and was really easy to get on with and she found herself rejoicing in the almost instant connection, that he had seemed to form with her and the others.
Later in the party Eva over heard the whispering of the servants to the host.
"We have run out of wine sir, what shall we do?"
The host went red, clearly humiliated by the revelation and with no idea how to handle this. Eva suddenly thought about the man Jesus and wondered if he could help. Even so she could not get close enough to him to ask him. So she spoke with his mother Mary, seated next to her son, and told her the situation. Mary then spoke to Jesus. Jesus said something back to Mary which again Eva did not hear.
Mary indicated to the servant, that had reported the situation and who was standing next to Eva, that he should come to Jesus and do whatever he told him to do. The servant came and Jesus said.
"I can see six large jars there each capable of holding some 20-30 gallons of water" he pointed at them. "fill these with water."
The servants did as they were told and when they drew the water out of the jars it was not water anymore it was wine. Also it was the best wine ever. Not everybody at the party saw the miracle but it changed Eva's life forever.
She approached her father, who was also at the party, and sitting with her mother, talking with some business associates, that had also been invited.
"Father did you see what Jesus did?"
Her father looked up at her irritated by the interruption.
"What do you want girl, cannot you see that I am busy!"
Eva realized, with a shock, that the people, her father was sitting with, were the parents of the man who had proposed marriage to her, the previous month, whom she had rudely declined, making a massive scene about this, which had ended the familial negotiations. She wondered if her father was using the wedding to reopen these negotiations. She decided to tell her news anyway.
As she spoke Eva noticed that the servant had just replaced the wine jug, at her fathers part of the table, with a fresh supply.
"Jesus just turned water into wine. In fact the wine you are drinking right now."
Her father looked at her with anger and contempt in his eyes.
"Do you expect me to believe this?! Why are you saying this in front of such distinguished company?"
His eyes turned back to the parents of the man Eva had so recently rejected.
Eva realized that her parents had sat with these people for precisely the reason she feared.
"What are you doing father? I am not going to marry that man."
"You will do as you are told."
"No I am not going to marry him, he is not a God fearing man and he only cares about money."
At that moment Jesus came up behind Eva and laid his hand upon her shoulder. Eva turned and suddenly her heart was at peace.
"Teacher, please tell my father that he cannot force me to marry a man whom I do not love and do not wish to marry."
Jesus said nothing, yet continued to stand with Eva and his presence somehow changed the tone of the conversation. He seemed to affirm her without splitting her from her parents.
Her father, enraged, yelled at his daughter,
"If you will not do as I wish on this matter then you are no longer my daughter and I cast you out, here and now, in front of all these witnesses."
Eva felt like she had been punched in the stomach and suddenly felt faint, her whole world was spinning, and she wondered if she would pass out. She turned to Jesus who now spoke.
"Come with us."
Eva turned away from her family and it was Mary, Jesus's mother, who welcomed Eva into a hug. Despite her emotional turmoil, and the situation, she felt herself calming and back in control. Mary added,
"You can travel with us, we need the extra help."
Eva noticed that there were other women, with Jesus also, smiling at her. They all left together.
Eva smiled, thinking that this was the best thing that had ever happened to her. This was her new family now, and she looked around at the faces, revealed by the flickering flames, with love in her eyes and heart. She contemplated the events of the day in Capernaum nearby. A Roman centurion called Flavius had approached Jesus asking for help.
"Lord," he had said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly."
Jesus had said to him, "Shall I come and heal him?"
"Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."
When Jesus had heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, including Eva,
"Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Then Jesus had said to Flavius,
"Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would."
The dawn was rising over the mountains on the other side of lake Galilee and the sky grew red. From their campsite, by the lake, a half days walk, from Capernaum, Eva now noticed three riders coming from the North, from Capernaum, riding with some purpose and speed. They had an extra horse carrying baggage with them. The riders approached their camp and Eva, slightly nervously, awoke Jesus and the others, to prepare them.
The mail-clad riders were blonde and probably Germanic auxiliaries in the employ of Herod Antipas. Yet Flavius, whom they had met the day before, was clearly a Roman and indeed reputed to have been born in Rome itself. He had charge of the force, deployed in the region, so Eva guessed he was probably also a mercenary, in Herod Antipas's employ, having previously served with the Roman legions and earned his title there. The leading rider approached and Jesus rose to meet him. The rider spoke in a rough and heavily accented Aramaic.
"We seek Jesus with a message from our Master Flavius. He sent us from Capernaum today."
"What is your message?"
"Yesterday, you commanded a healing on my Masters servant, in the 7th hour. When our Master returned he received the news that his servant was healed that very hour. My Master extends his thanks and wishes to ask if there is anything that he can do for you, in return."
Jesus turned to Eva,
"Eva I have a mission for you. There is a Roman officer whom you will marry and guide and instruct with what I have taught you. It is not Flavius, nor any man under his command, however it is one whom you will meet through him. It will be your choice and you will love him and he will love you. You have a heart to save Romans, which will be instructed by your love for your husband. In the meantime, let Flavius be your father and may you be his daughter. Go with these men now, live in Flavius's home, until the man, I have prepared for you, comes for you."
Eva was shocked at the idea of leaving Jesus and indeed of marriage. Yet such was the authority that Jesus exercised over her life, and such was the love that they shared, that she knew he would not do anything, except out of love for her and those to whom he sent her.
Her eyes looked straight at Jesus though her body trembled with some nervousness. Yet, determined to honor Jesus's request, she replied,
"Raboni, you know how my heart longs to serve you and I trust you on this and I thank you for considering your lowly servant for this mission."
Jesus smiled and placing a hand on her shoulder he added,
"Do not fear, the man I have for you is special and will do great things."
The women she had traveled with hugged her and there were some tears and goodbyes. The apostle Matthew who also had a home in the town said.
"Since I live there and James and John also and Nathaniel, Andrew, Phillip and Peter have their homes just down the road in Bethsaida I hardly think this is good bye Eva, so see you later."
The soldiers redistributed the baggage from their extra horse, to the other horses, and Eva then rode back with them to Capernaum, where Flavius received her as his daughter, as Jesus had instructed him. The only woman in his villa, she met many Roman soldiers, in that time, passing through from Caesarea to Syria or on business with the local royal administrators, and became accustomed to talking to them about Jesus. They would laugh at her for this, yet rarely got too angry with her, because she was pretty, now dressed like a Roman lady and was under the Centurion's protection. Flavius, a believer, respected her courage, liked the way she initiated so many conversations about her faith and found her knowledge of scripture, gained from a lifetime of learning and studies and also from her time with Jesus, impressive. He would often ask her questions to improve his own understanding of the local culture and of the faith they now shared. She already knew some Latin, which rapidly improved, when she moved into the house, and within a short time she could banter with the visiting soldiers and Flavius in their native tongue. Flavius permitted her to meet with Jesus and the apostles when they were in town, as happened frequently and to attend the synagogue when Jesus preached there and Flavius would always quiz her afterwards.
One day, a special group of soldiers arrived at Flavius's house, under orders. Covered in sweat and dust, from the road, and with the tough leathery skin of men who had lived outside in the harsh sunlight, most of their lives, they spoke Latin to the Centurion and ignored Eva, whom they assumed was a Jewish servant girl, and could not understand them, while she washed their feet, as they sat with Flavius.
"Centurion, I bring orders from Rome and come direct from Prefect Pontius Pilate in Caesarea" said Gaius the Centurion. "We need your help."
Flavius's face flickered with a variety of emotions ugly and good,
"Technically, I am retired from the legions and I serve King Herod Antipas and am not under Roman authority. Even so if you need my help, of course I will give it, as to an old friend. Yet I serve Rome still. I will do whatever I can to help you Gaius?"
Gaius replied with understanding in his face and voice,
"Flavius I know you as a friend and a capable soldier, it seems you have not found it so easy to relinquish command and the military life though life round here cannot be as intense as when you served with us and were my commander. But you have made it work here, and the reports I have heard suggest you may have the local bandit problem under control. The Jewish merchants, I speak to, all love you cause they are getting their goods through these parts now. It seems you have converted the loot you took in that Parthian raid into a comfortable lifestyle here in this place so far from civilization. We are here because you have unique knowledge of the area of Parthia, we are travelling to. I am sorry to put this on you, but you are the only one who can really help us around here, and besides we need the assistance of your men."
"I spent much of that loot building up the local synagogue and on this villa, but the merchants have been very generous, and I have a comfortable lifestyle here. My strategy in doing so was about integrating my command with the local elites and their concerns, the merchants and the priests being the two key groups here and ensuring my acceptance into the town I chose for my retirement. Anyway I am waffling and I guess it was getting a little tame just hunting bandits?"
"The mission is dangerous, nonetheless we promise to bring you back in one piece," said Gaius with a grin and with some bravado. Then he added, "We will not need you to cross the border with us, but we will need to quiz you thoroughly on the way and to escort us back."
These men impressed Eva as being the genuine article, brave, hard men, accustomed to fighting and winning battles, and carrying out impossible orders. They had an air of professional confidence and discipline about them that the local auxiliaries lacked. Flavius also seemed to have grown in their presence. He seemed harder and more confident with these men. She did not know much about his history with the Legions, and it was intriguing to hear that Flavius's ex subordinates considered his current command in terms of an exile from civilization. But then she had grown up in Galilee and thought of it as home, not a low grade backwater, as did many of the recently discharged or retired Roman soldiers who found employment with Agrippa here. Of the visitors, one of them especially stood out for her, the Optio, Davidus, as his fellow officer called him, was a head taller than most of the other men in the company, except Gaius, who was the same muscular build and height. However he did not seem to notice her, so focused was he on his mission, and talking with Flavius. She found herself wanting him to look at her, and even aching for his attention.
"Can I ask what the purpose of your mission is?" asked Flavius.
"That is something we can discuss on the road, we will give you the full details." said Gaius.
"Ok then we agree, we leave at first light. In the meantime let me see to your needs and those travelling with you. Eva bring wine for these men and tell the cook to prepare a meal fit for heroes."
Davidus turned and seeing Eva for the first time smiled at her. She blushed and quickly turned to see to Flavius's request.
"She dresses so finely and has an intelligence in her eyes, is she a servant?" he asked curiously.
"No Eva is more like a daughter to me, I pay her to help around the house, only to give her a bit of financial independence and because a Jewish Rabbi, called Jesus, asked me to look after her. She is fluent in Greek and Latin, but also more usefully the local Aramaic and even the Hebrew of the religious people here. She is a follower of Jesus."
"Who is this Jesus, that we have heard so much about, I hear that he can cure the sick and even raise the dead. Are the stories about him true?"
Flavius studied the men's faces slightly nervously wondering if he should share his new faith, with all the risks that might entail. Gaius however pressed the issue.
"Yes please tell us about this Jesus, is he a threat to Roman authority in the region?"
"No he preaches respect for the authorities and seems unconcerned with revolutions and violence. He is a peaceful person and his message is one of peace and love. He healed my servant at my request."
"No another one, a Greek slave in my household who serves me still . You can quiz him himself, if you wish. Since I saw this man, paralyzed on his death-bed, by an accident here and then alive and well, it is hard to deny the power of Jesus, and I know the power of the Divine is in Him."
Gaius raised an eyebrow.
"You believe in a Jewish Teacher, when you could worship Mars, Neptune, Venus or Jupiter, you really know how to get yourself into trouble don't you Flavius! You sound like Davidus here, he is still a Jew at heart and tells me there is only one God and all the others are fakes and impostors. Like you he has done his promotion prospects no good with his honesty and his convictions. Davidus should have his own Century by now, even so his punishment for his weird religious convictions, and hard honesty, are to play second fiddle to me. Does this Messiah serve his God, or another one?"
"It is hard to separate Jesus and the Jewish God, since he does the things that God does, and he is called the Son of God, so they seem to be of one purpose. I have not really thought that through to be honest. I just know he can heal people, that he makes sense and that he is the most remarkable person I have ever met."
Eva had returned into the room and overheard the conversation.
Davidus turned to her and in Aramaic asked her,
"Have you met the one they call Jesus?"
Eva paused realizing the soldier was a Jew in Roman uniform. Given her history, it was a magical combination for her, as she loved both Romans and Jews.
"You are a Jew and you have not yet met your Messiah?" she replied also in Aramaic.
"I thought the Messiah was a mighty King who would liberate Israel from people like me and my friends here."
Then switching to Hebrew he continued with a native Hebrew accent:
"Did not the prophet Zechariah say : 'The LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one'"
"Is this the Messiah to whom even Caesar shall bow?"
Eva answered in Hebrew,
"Yes he is the King of Kings, though His Kingdom is different from that of Caesars, He paid the tax to Caesar, so he is no Zealot intent on overthrowing the power of Rome. His focus is love and mercy."
Eva continued, now in Latin, because she could see the other soldiers getting irritated, by the talk in languages they could not understand.
"This Jesus is the one the prophets spoke about, though honestly, if you meet Jesus you would understand that all this global political stuff, armies and wars, do not really matter compared with what he is really about. He can raise the dead, he can heal any sickness, the demons are cast out in his name, he made a blind man see."
Davidus replied, "Your Latin is good, have you seen the things that you claim Jesus did."
"Yes I was at a party where he turned the water into wine."
Gaius snorted with laughter, "Now you are talking my kind of god!"
Joseph gave him a severe look and Gaius apologetically waved Eva to continue.
"I only heard the stories about the person that Jesus raised from the dead. But these I heard from the people who were there, when the person died, and who were witnesses to that and to his coming back to life, when Jesus was there with him. I spoke to the man who was born blind before he was healed, I would chat to him in the market in Jerusalem, where I was staying with Jesus, and help him to buy fruit. Then one day I went down there and approached him and I realized he could see and he said, 'I can see now, Jesus healed me'. It was all very amazing. However do not trust just my word go see Jesus for yourself."
"Maybe when we return from our mission. Indeed it would good to meet a man of love and peace, after we have done what we need to do. The world, in my experience, is violent and dangerous, there are not enough people who have the courage to stand for the things that really matter in this life. Life itself is a miracle, so a man who can do miracles is one who is in harmony with it, and saturated with it. My life has been more about death than life, but one who could raise the dead to life, would be a friend I would wish to have", he said with some sadness.
Gaius nodded, and looking at Davidus with some concern, for his fellow officer, with all the tragedies the man had endured, most of which he had shared in. He added in a serious tone,
"Yes we have seen many comrades killed before their time and a god who could raise the men we have known from the dead would be worthy of our worship. But all this reminds me of Mithras - didn't he rise from the dead?"
He paused glancing at Eva and then added chuckling,
"Of course these are just stories told by a pretty Jewish girl. You surprise me Davidus, never have I seen just a fierce soldier in battle, yet here you are conversing about a man of love, as if his way was the better way."
"Is it not for love that we fight in the end, we fight to protect the dreams of women of education and honor such as this."
He pointed at Eva, who was quite touched, and a little overwhelmed, at being described like that. Then he continued.
"We fight to preserve the peace and security, that Rome has brought the lands it has conquered, we fight for the innocent against the ruthless."
Gaius shrugged an agreement and said,
"Maybe, and men who fight only for hate, and with the blood lust of the cruel and merciless, are not men whose company I much enjoy, nor trust in battle for that matter, they lack discipline in the fight. However you must see the contrast between the life you live and the ideals of which you speak and which this girl claims are embodied in the man Jesus."
"I feel that my whole life I have fought for the ideals of this man. Rome, to me, is like a family home, I guard against the wolves, it's like a Kingdom where the rule of law and justice is trusted. My hands are covered in blood, so that normal people can live in peace. We do the hard things so that they do not have to. Our sacrifice sets them free."
Now his commander laughed,
"Spoken like an orphan who never really knew the bickering and infighting of family life. Rome is in the hands of gods, who do not much care for the common man, is more my experience. It is a little corrupt and has been led by some very cruel men, yet at the end of the day it's the best system there is, definitely better than the tribes and empires we have fought against and anyway we are Roman soldiers so we fight for it right or wrong."
The conversation drifted to other things and the wine flowed freely. But Davidus's words touched Eva's heart. This was a man who had served Jesus all his life, in his own way, she thought, without even knowing him, a fatherless man, who in a brutal world had some how kept his soul intact, with the hope of the 'something greater' that Jesus represented. She longed to be alone with Davidus and to talk more with him. He knew the words of the scriptural prophecies, in the original Hebrew, but he could speak the Aramaic of the people also. He spoke Latin like a native and as she listened to the conversation she realized he knew Greek also. This was a warrior with a soul and a brain, a Jew like herself, who had somehow kept his hope and ideals intact, though tested by war, and a level of harsh living, she could not begin to contemplate.
Later Davidus drew Eva aside. "How did you learn all the languages you speak?"
"My family was quite religious and at the same time they were merchants and their trading activities meant they needed Greek. So I would help write dispatches, invoices, receipts, bills of trade and the like. Also we had our own copy of the Septuagint, the Greek language version of our Jewish scriptures, and acquired bible scrolls in Aramaic and Hebrew. It was a source of immense pride in my family to have these in our possession. I spent a year of my childhood copying the Septuagint, to obtain a private copy for study. However I lost that when my father threw me out the house. He was angry at me, for rejecting the attempts of the son, of one his top customers, to make me his wife. I learnt later that he gave my Septuagint to the parents of the man I rejected, to secure their ongoing business with him."
"Wow, no wonder you know the scriptures so well. Your Greek must be excellent. I would love to have a copy of the scriptures. There is one in the Legion camp in Syria which I read whenever I can. It would be so much easier if I had my own. If I had money I can think of no better thing, to spend it on, than to buy this. Why did you reject the man, if you do not mind me asking?"
"He only talked about money and never about God and I did not think he loved me and he just did not attract me."
"Well his loss and I am sure there is a more worthy man out there for you."
Eva studied the man in front of her. He was physically marvelous, yet that was not the best thing about him, his eyes shone as he looked at her and he was clearly animated by their conversation. He had a depth of intellect, soul and personality that attracted her like no man had ever done before. She suddenly felt a little insecure and looking deep into those same eyes she asked her burning question, keen to read anything and everything in his response.
"Are you not intimidated by my learning, most men are, that is why I am so old and still unmarried."
Davidus cracked a smile and then could not help himself and started laughing. Soon Eva joined in, even though she did not know why he was laughing, and suspected he was laughing at her. His laughter was contagious, she loved his laugh. When he finally calmed down enough to speak she asked him.
"So were you laughing at me?"
"Oh I am sorry, you must think me terribly rude. I was laughing because you really are not that old and yet you think that you are. Also that you have this incredible learning about things, that really matter, yet have somehow convinced yourself it is unattractive. Sorry it just seemed ridiculous and I could not help myself."
"So you think I am ridiculous," said Eva, with mock anguish, but secretly delighted at his answer, her heart was pounding and she felt all weak at the knees.
"No you are amazing, I mean what is not to like, you are the whole package, looks, intelligence, and you are an absolute pleasure to be with."
Eva did not really know how to respond to that and went bright red, her heart overwhelmed by too many emotions to articulate a response.
Davidus noticed and apologized again,
"Look, I am sorry, I am clumsy soldier, I just say it like I see it and I get into a lot of trouble for that and I really do not know how to behave around pretty women like you. I mean you are amazing, but I guess it was inappropriate for me to simply blurt it out like that."
"That's OK, I am just not used to men complimenting me, like you do, in fact most Jewish men just insult me these days, because I hang out with Gentiles and Romans."
An ugly look came across Davidus's face.
"No one has the right to insult a Lady of your worth and class."
"I am just a servant girl."
"No Eva, you are far more than that!"
Eva had to move away, at that point, with her duties, but she turned and smiled at Davidus, as she did so, and he smiled back and she felt the butterflies return in full force to her stomach.
As they ended the evening, some of the soldiers in their company made suggestive remarks about Eva. Davidus was quick to spring to her defense with Flavius also. She noticed that a bond had formed between the men and that they seemed like friends, on the deepest of levels.
As Davidus left, he turned to Eva, and once more in Hebrew said,
"It was a pleasure to meet you Eva and I hope that I will live to see you again. Please pray for me."
Eva's heart almost broke with the realization that this may indeed be the last time she would see this man, whom she had just met, so deep was the connection, that had so quickly formed between them. She flushed again and it took a moment for her to find her voice. Davidus gave her the moment, waiting patiently for her to emerge from her feelings into coherent thought. When she spoke it came from the deepest part of her, with an ache and a yearning desperation that she had never felt before.
"Yes with all my heart, I will pray for you" she said.
Eva spent much of the next two hours cleaning up, after the soldiers, and it was late before she slept. So she did not see the Romans leave, early the next morning, with her master, the Centurion and a unit of his men.