by Louise Rinser
Translated from the German by Frank Thomas Smith
But I decided for something else. I had long wanted to go to Bethany to visit my relatives. I got as far as Qumran on the first trip, not farther.
This time I didnít reach it either. Again something intervened.
At an inn I met some people who were going to Enon. There was a man there, Yochanan by name, a great repentance preacher. The people told me that he prophesized the end of time. Great catastrophes will come, he said, fire will fall from heaven, the sea will rush up and devour the land, the greatest part of humanity will be killed. However, the possibility of salvation exists: whoever turns away from sin and completely changes his life will survive the catastrophe. But one must repent, and baptism is part of that, the great purifying bath. Only the pure can enter the realm of heaven that the Messiah will found, here and soon.
This was the talk of the Essenes. The madness of the desert monks. This Yochanan was surely one of them from the lion caves, one who hated life and love, one of the people-robbers, one of my enemies, whom I had cursed so bitterly.
Against my will I let myself be dragged along by those people.
I did so much against my will during those years. As though someone commanded me and led me here and there, as though here or there were the most important, the reality. And it always came to nothing. Thatís what I thought. What was I supposed to find at the Jordan?
A lot of people. And the Baptist, full bearded, with matted hair and dressed in nothing but a loincloth. And his cry: Repent, the end of time approaches, the new realm is coming, cleanse yourselves of your sins!
The people thronged to him: publicans, housewives, shopkeepers, fishermen, workers. No great lord, no courtesan, no priest, no scribe. None of the great sinners. Only the little ones, who were forced by the big ones to sin: stealing food, a bit of bribery, a bit of trickery, adultery now and then, so life would become more bearable. How they thronged to the Baptist, as if they were in a hurry, as if the catastrophe could strike before their baptism!
I didnít understand it. You went into the water, the Baptist sprinkled Jordan water from his shell over your bowed head, and you were already pure. As if such a conversion could be realized by the wave of a hand. As though the outer purification was also the inner one. As if all those people were righteous from then on and no longer sinned. As if the sinful past were washed away by such a baptismal bath. How these Essenes understood how to frighten them with the catastrophe threat, then an instant later to comfort them and give them the guarantee of salvation! With what authority did he do that? Surely with that of his superior Superior from Qumran or wherever. What arrogance! How the people were treated. How they were made into fearful children who begged for forgiveness. The game was repulsive. I turned to leave.††††††
Then my gaze fell on someone standing with those waiting to be baptized. He didnít fit in with the others. He wasnít one the fearful little sinners. What was it that made him stand out from the rest? The Baptist also noticed him. He stopped yelling and baptizing and stared at him, that one among so many, and his face registered first shock, then doubtful recognition, joy and enthusiasm, and suddenly he cried: Itís he! Itís he! He, the awaited one, the longed for, the promised one!
A deep silence reigned as the Baptist approached the one he had so described. I didnít hear what they said, I only saw how their gazes met. It was an agreement from long ago. As though they had long known each other. As though this encounter was not accidental. What was happening? The Baptist didnít want to baptize, he handed his shell to the other and bowed his head in order to be baptized. The other insisted, however, that the Baptist baptize him. A strange game. Finally the Baptist gave in and sprinkled water over the other. At that moment something pulled his gaze upwards. He saw something, but what? There was something there that pulled all our gazes upwards, and it was nothing, and yet it was something. Something was present that had not been there before. Something touched us.
It was very fleeting, but it left a trace like a rift in the air. Today I know what it was. Then I shook my head about myself and that Baptist, and I was angry for letting myself be impressed by that scene, and finally my anger was directed towards that man of whom the Baptist said: It is he.
Who then? A prearranged game. Two Essenes played it. The awaited one whom the Baptist announced is come, see, the prophecy is fulfilled, and then the other one, the one about the catastrophe.
What did I care? It had nothing to do with me.
I saw how the baptized one wrapped his cloak tight around him and left. For a moment I was tempted to run after him, speak to him and find out his secret. But of course I didnít do it. One doesnít do such things. It wasnít my way. I left in the opposite direction to be sure not to meet that person again.
I found no lodging that night. Everything was occupied by the Jordan pilgrims who were waiting to be baptized. I had to be happy to have found a cave. No sooner had I fallen asleep when something woke me: many people came rushing into the cave and pressed into the rear. After a while I heard the clatter of horses and orders being shouted, the language was not ours, it was the Romansí Latin. Obviously they didnít find what they were looking for and rode off. It was clear that they were pursuing people and the pursued were with me in the cave. I pushed closer to them and said: Donít be afraid, whoever you are, Iím on your side, Iím a Galilean, who are you?
Are you alone?
On the run?
No, only without lodgings tonight. And you?
Why? you ask. Do you, a Jew and a Galilean, like living under the Romans?
Of course not.
And what are you doing to free Yisrael?
What can I do, I, a woman?
A pair of women emerged from the shadows. Come with us! We are gathering friends, comrades in the struggle.
What does your struggle look like?
What does it look like? Like every struggle for freedom. What are you asking? Donít you know anything about whatís going on? Did you see the crosses over there? Are you a Jew who clasps her hands in her lap and waits for a rescuer to relieve you of the struggle? Come, girl, come with us. Here: take this, hide it under your cloak.
Cold steel: a dagger.
A low, sharp order, and the shadows crept away. I saw no face. The dagger lay in my hand.
I considered: over there the Baptist screaming for penance. Repent, for the end of time is near, change your life; and here the dagger and the struggle for freedom. Over there waiting for the Messiah, and here your own deeds. The purifying water, the purifying blood.
Morning came. I saw the hill with the crosses. The bodies still hung on the wood. There were women among them, their bellies turned towards the stake. What a feeling of shame. I laughed out loud, then I cried.† My people, my people, what they do to you, how they shame you! How they hound you! And no one to save you from misery. No one. Where is the Eternal One who made the testament with us, the great, eternally valid testament? He is breaking it! He, not us this time. But maybe itís all a deception and this Eternal One doesnít exist. Maybe the Greek was right when he said: we make gods, we make our own god. In order to bear our misery, we invent the Father-God and the Messiah. Infantile beliefs, foolishness. Enough of that. Final repudiation. Earless, eyeless, powerless! I screamed it into the cold morning. Youíre supposed to be the Father? You are not. You are supposed to be with us? Where then? You promised us your realm. Where is it? Where is your help? You make the rich richer, the powerful more powerful, you forget the poor and even take away their daily bread. Thatís what youíre like, IF you even exist. It would be better for you and for us if you didnít exist. Listen, in Yisraelís name you are never forgiven. Amen.††††
That was of course a nonsense prayer: how could I rage against what doesnít exist? But it helped me. A shackle fell from me. I felt grown-up. I sensed my own strength and a hard joy. The joy of the godless. The arrogance of the godless. The cold pride of the free person. Call it a demonic joy, an evil joy. You are right. None could overcome this demon except the son of infinite love.
So you see, there is something to the story about demons. A Jewess whose love for her people turns into hate against him who she accuses of having broken the contract. A Jewess who becomes ill from hate and love. Love and hate: these were the two sides of the same coin. My eyes saw only one. I decided to side with the opposition groups. I would find them most easily in Galilee. There the fronts were clearest. Farther to the south, in Judea, in the capital of everything, they were mixed. There were too many there who made deals with the Romans: priests, feudal masters, businessmen. All kinds of profiteers who liked things as they were: let things stay as they are, we are the silent winners.
In Galilee they were poor and rebellious as ever. So I went there.
A dayís journey later I came to the Kineret Sea.† It lay quiet between the hills on this side and the desert mountains on the other. A moon-night. Far out a few fishing boats. Now and then a fish sprang up and, plunging back, described a round trace of silver. Sometimes a rustle in the reeds. It was beautiful. It was peace and home. I sat there for a long time, completely at one with the breath of the landscape that was my home.
Suddenly a wind sprang up, from one moment to the next, south-wind, a storm in an almost clear sky, a ferocious storm, without warning. And the boats out there, the wind against them. The fishermenís wives gathered on the shore, the old, the children. The boats danced and sprang and couldnít come in because of the waves, and they couldnít be helped, no boat came through the sharp breakers.
As suddenly as the storm sprang up, so suddenly did it subside. Nothing. Stillness. The sea was mirror smooth and the boats came in undamaged and with full nets. Cries of joy and tears and embraces.
A man stepped out of one of the boats, paid no attention to the ships, fish or fishermen, but waded to shore, pulled his cloak closely around him and walked away, alone and very solitary. One whom no one was waiting for. One without a family. Who was he?†††††††††††††††††††
Hadnít I seen those motions before, this wrapping himself in his cloak, this wordless leaving? Then I realized: he was the one from the Jordan. Who was he though, this special one whom you couldnít overlook?
Why didnít I run after him that time either?
I saw him disappear through the reeds and the bushes. Where did he go?
The fishermen had pulled their nets on shore. A fine catch, nets in good shape despite the storm.
I spoke to one of the fishermen: Who was the man in this boat?
Who got out and walked away. Is he one of you, a fisherman?
He? If you mean Yeshua, heís a rabbi, not a fisherman.
Do you know him?
Why shouldnít I?
And you? Who are you?
You were lucky to have escaped safely.
Luck, you say. Luck? Thatís not luck, young lady.
Shimon looked up at me. What do you know, he said, you werenít with us out there.
No, I only saw how you were about to capsize and the storm abated.
Yes, and how it abated. Like a dog lies at its masterís feet when the master orders it to.
Whatís that supposed to mean?
Why are you asking? Donít you see I have work to do?
I left him alone. He was hiding something. But what?
I asked someone from the second boat: Tell me what happened out there.
What then? We were rescued. Isnít that enough?
But another one said: If the rabbi hadnít been with us we would never have made it to land. Have you ever seen such a storm or how it abated?
Oh sure, I said, such storms happen. They go as they came.
He looked at me angrily. Thatís what you think? he asked.
I got no more out of him. But it was clear to me: they believed this rabbi had stopped the storm. Fools, miracle-addicts. What power they attributed to him.
But why had he, the rabbi, gone out with the fishermen? What did he have to do with them? He was no fisherman, nor the son of a fisherman. He was from Nazareth, Shimon had said.
From Nazareth. From Nazareth. And I remembered: the boy! That one! Itís him. It must be him. I wove the threads to a yarn: he had gone to the Essenes and returned. He came back to life. It is he! And now he was a rabbi and went out to sea with the fishermen, with the poor. A rabbi, a scholar who cared about the poor fishermen.
Could he be one of the secret rebels? But what did he have in common with that penance-preacher? That didnít make sense. Either one or the other.
What was unclear made me angry. What do I care, I thought. What do I care about this rabbi? The miracle-rabbi of whom the lepers spoke, was this him? Now that: a miracle worker. A sectarian. One of the hundreds of prophets who wander around the land. Or even one who thinks heís the Messiah.
No, no, I wanted nothing to do with him. I felt the dagger under my cloak. It had become warm against my flesh. That was sound, that was a clear decision.
Before going to seek a rebel group, I went home to Magdala and put my house in order. What I didnít need, I gave away, as the Essenes did, something that was in the air and affected even me, though I didnít understand it. I took something with me though, although it seemed very foolish to take just that: three small alabaster flasks, fused closed so that none of the valuable fragrance could be lost: ointment for the king. Each of the flasks was worth a fortune. In any case, I thought, I can sell them some day, which would mean a lot of money for the rebellion.††††
I didnít tell anyone about my plan, nor did I take any of the servants with me. I let two go, richly endowed; two I kept, the most conscientious. Keep the house in good condition until I return.
So I left, flasks and dagger under my clothing.
I wandered around and no one was surprised. They had become accustomed to me, as they would to a beggar, leper, wandering preacher or minor prophet. Everything was possible in our land in our times.
Once a group of wandering men approached me in a narrow pass. The path was narrow, one could only go through single file. Who would make way? I, still the Jewish woman, still habit formed, stood aside to let the men pass. It wasnít proper to look strange men in the face. I adhered to such rules Ė then.
But one of them forced me to break the rule: it was a look that gripped me and wanted reciprocation. What a look. My heartbeat stopped, I saw a flash of lightning and fell unconscious.
This is the basis for the story of the curing of the possessed one, of the expulsion of the seven or eight demons.
When I regained consciousness, the sun was down. I found myself under a cover of branches and leaves beyond the pass. I had been brought there and put in a safe place. Beside me lay some bread and a small flask of wine. No one was to be seen. I felt strange. When I stood up, I felt as light as a handful of grass, and I saw that the earth was beautiful. That was it: I SAW.
Then I went to sleep. I awoke amazed and felt as though I had been cured of a long, serious illness.
HE. And once again he had disappeared.
He couldnít have got very far in one night. I deceived myself: I had lain there for three days and three nights in a deep sleep. But Yeshua told me that much later. I asked the early workers in the fields and all the pilgrims on the road if they had seen a group of men. Finally two soldiers on horseback stopped me. I said boldly: I got lost and canít find my brothers, have you seen them?
Luckily I said: six.
Probably they thought: six against two, we better let the woman go.
They went that way, your people.
Apparently they said that to have something to say.
I took it as a sign. That way. Your people.
So they are my people.
Henceforth and forever mine.
The riders had pointed to the northeast. The road led again to the sea, and along the sea to Kefarnachum.
And there I found him, and this time the decision between us was made.
I saw the small group come from the sea and go to a scribeís house. It was midday, time to eat. He and his group, including Shimon the fisherman, entered the house. The door stood open.† What if I went in, uninvited, a woman. A stranger, or perhaps known as ďthe one from MagdalaĒ, ďwith the evil lookĒ, the demons? What would happen? They would throw me out. Surely. And HE? No matter, I jumped the hurdle, it had to be, the time had come, now or never: I went in. No one held me back. It was only very quiet in the room, as if they all were holding their breath. As though destiny itself was holding its breath. I stood before him.
I took one of my alabaster flasks out and broke it on the table-top. The room was filled with fragrance. The kingís ointment. I poured a little over his hair, the rest on his feet. I knelt and remained kneeling, and wept. I would have stayed kneeling for a thousand years. It was a blissful death. What died was my earth-I. The scene made the men speechless. Finally though one of them said something that sounded unfriendly. I heard: Donít you know who she is, rabbi?
Yeshua said: Do you know? You donít. Listen: A creditor had two debtors. One owed him fifty denars, the other five hundred. Neither one was able to pay back the debt. The creditor forgave both their debts. Which of the two will be most thankful?
He who was forgiven most, of course.
So is it. Donít judge though, neither in words, in looks nor in thoughts. Miryam, (how did he know my name?) stand up, look at me, dry your tears. With these tears you have washed yourself clean.
That was all I could say.
The host grumbled, there was an awkward discord in the room. The rabbi didnít wait for the meal to end. As he stood up he said to the host: Did you provide me with water to wash my feet? Did you give me the brother-kiss? Do you know whom you invited? But she recognized me.
He motioned to his disciples and me, and we went out. A scandal. One of many which I experienced later.
I stood there undecided.
What are you waiting for? Come!
I came. I stayed. I followed him until under the cross. Until today I am his.
The men, however, his disciples, looked dismayed. A woman among them? A woman at the rabbiís side, and not his wife? That was intolerable. That would cause much talk. But they didnít dare to argue. They accepted me in the hope (they told me later) that I would soon grow weary of the constant moving about. They acted as though I wasnít there, and I acted as though it was all completely normal. And Yeshua treated me as though he had known me forever. With him I was safe. Once and forever. A difficult safety, but there is no other.
We were eight: Shimon the fisherman, his brother Andrew, the other brothers Jíakov and Yochanan the Elder, also fishermen, and a young man named Yochanan, who was no fisherman, but a scholar who had studied in Greece, and then one from the Jewish Diaspora, from Decapolis, and he also had a Greek name: Philippos; he was no simple worker; and Yeshua and I.
It was evening and no lodgings were in sight. The men didnít care. It seemed that they left everything to the rabbi. He finally found an empty farmhouse, one of those whose owner had been dispossessed and his property expropriated.
Can you cook? Shimon asked hopefully. He meant: can you at least do that, since otherwise youíre nothing but a bother.
No, I canít cook. I come from a house where the servants do that.
They all laughed.
Yeshua said: Why should she cook for us? Havenít we always done that ourselves? Has she come to serve us?
Shimon grumbled: She should do something, shouldnít she? Why else is she with us?
Why are you with me, Shimon?
Yes, sure. But a womanÖ
Yes, a woman. Now go and gather herbs, and you, Philippos and Andrew, clean the fish, and Yochanan, go and fetch water.
So I was alone with him for the first time. He arranged wood for the fire. How calmly he moved, how skillfully and easy. I sat there doing nothing and looking at him. He tossed a flint stone and wood to me. Can you do it? he asked, or do your servants also do that?
I was ashamed, but he laughed. His laughter was cheerful and warm.
When the fire was burning he sat next to it, watched the flames and was silent.
Who are you? I thought. Whoever are you, that I sit here with you as if it must be so? I, the lone wolf, without men, untamed. And now suddenly this. How did it happen? It came over me like silent thunder. Did he bewitch me? He had something about him that was indescribable. He was irresistible, but he didnít possess you. He attracted and kept his distance. There was something between him and everyone else that forbade intimacy, but permitted nearness, even encouraged it.††
I didnít know him yet. I never really knew him, but he was known to me since eternity. He, however, knew me.
I hadnít said a word, yet he answered the unasked question: What are you worrying about, Miryam? I am who I am. You will never know more about me than you do at this moment.
Then the others came back, the fished was cooked, the herbs eaten, the spring water drunk, a farmerís meal, a fishermanís meal. But something was different: before we began to eat the rabbi took the flat bread, blessed it, divided it into eight parts and gave each of us a piece. A simple gesture, but there was meaning in it, and solemnity.
How often did I experience this bread-breaking in the following years! And one time it was the last time, and that last time was the testament, the great bond between him and us.
I ate and drank and forgot what he had said to me. But it came back to me some days later: I am who I am.
That could mean: Take me as I am. It could also mean something else though, something I barely allowed myself to think. I-Am-Who-I-Am. A name. One of the names of the Eternal One. But this, no, he couldnít have meant that. Not that. So I took it as a simple meaning: I am who I am and I am HERE, and you must be satisfied with my being here.
That first evening around the fire was beautiful. Full of peace. As though neither Romans nor rebels existed, neither masters nor slaves, neither rich nor poor, neither men nor woman, neither the learned nor the ignorant, only brothers, and nothing but peace. The rabbi had that peace to offer.
For that one night the realm of heaven was a reality. We slept in the barn on hay and straw, until the cold of morning woke us. Then we broke camp and left. I didnít ask where we were going. The going-with-him was the fulfillment.
At a bend in the road I threw my dagger into the bushes. Yeshua turned around. Had he seen what I did? He said: good.
Fear went through my bones: Did he know everything? Was nothing hidden from him?
You are uncanny, I thought, did you bewitch me after all? In any case you are clairvoyant. A strange one. One to fear, not only to love.
The next day at the border between Galilee and Samaria we met a customs agent at the customs gate. He was dealing with a wagon that was heavily laden and well covered. We couldnít see what was in it. The inspection went very quickly. The driver showed a piece of parchment, the agent glanced at it, raised the gate and let the wagon pass. Then he spit after it and cursed. I recognized the curse from a psalm: ďHis children be lost in the wilderness and go begging, expelled from their ruinsÖIn the next generation their names be erased. For he hates the poor and the sufferingÖĒ
Then he saw us and was silent. There were many informers around and one could be turned in. Someone who was dissatisfied was also a rebel and a potential friend of the freedom fighters.
Yeshua said: Whom are you cursing, friend?
The customs agent said: I was praying, thatís allowed, isnít it?
Yeshua said: Donít you know the saying: Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord?
The man looked at him mistrustfully. Then he saw our cheap clothes and our old sandals and the menís long hair, and he said: The Lord, the Lord, I know only many lords and they all get off without punishment, for there is no lord over them. Did you see that wagon? Tax free goods for the priests in Jerushalem. A stamp, a seal, and they go through. Iím here to collect taxes. Demand taxes from them, try to control them! I tried it and this was the answer, look.
He showed us the scars on his back.
But I must hand money in. Who should I take it from if the lords donít pay? From those who are no lords: from the farmers. They must pay. I stop them and take the customs tax from them. I, who used to be a farmer.
Why arenít you still one?
Why? My farm caught the eye of one of Herodís ministers. He sent a control agent. You manage this farm miserably, he says. Yes, I say, and why do I manage miserably? Because I have to pay high taxes. But, he says, you donít pay them all. Yes, I say, thatís it: I donít pay them because I canít, because theyíre so high that I canít manage the farm properly anymore. He says: See, you admit that you run the farm badly. Weíll put in a lessee who will do it better; you may stay as a servant. I shout: A servant, I, a free farmer! He says: No oneís forcing you to stay, you can go. I went to the judge: Can that be, what theyíre doing to me? He says: What can and what cannot be the authorities decide. I say: And who decides what the authorities may and may not decide? Who allows the tetrarch Herod to exploit us? Do you think we donít know where the twelve thousand talents come from to support his court, that court of whores? He says: Youíre lucky I donít cite you for rebellion, there are enough stakes for people like you. What could I do? I left. I must be happy that I got this job.
Damned dogs, said Shimon, and reached for the dagger he carried under his cloak just in case, and which he never used except for once, at the wrong time, when Yeshua was arrested.
Yeshua said nothing. He drew with his finger in the sand, something he often did when he silently listened.
Finally he said: Have you anything against our sitting here with you to eat something, friend?††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††
We ate bread and olives and onions and shared it with the customs agent, and he brought water from a cistern. Meanwhile another wagon arrived, heavily loaded and sealed. Again a parchment with a stamp, and the agent again opened the gate. I saw how the man driving the wagon pressed something into his hand.
Yeshua said: And you, friend, you sit here and serve the unjust and accept bribes, like them all.
Like them all, the agent said, so it is, like them all.
Yeshua said: Show me one of the coins which you have in your purse. Whose picture is on it?
The Roman emperorís.
Doesnít the coin burn in your hand? Donít you see that there is blood on it? Wash your hands clean, friend!
Come with us.
And do what?
Prepare the peace.
Now the man became curious. So you are with those who are against injustice?
We are for justice and freedom, said Yeshua.
Do you belong to a larger group? The man asked.
Yeshua said: We are a small group, but we are like a mustard seed, tiny, but when it grows it is a tree and many birds find shelter in its branches.
Aha, said the man, you aim so high.
So high, said Yeshua.
I like you, the man said, you have something about you that gives one courage. I would like to follow you. But you donít know who I am. Iíll tell you frankly: After I was ejected from the farm I became a street thief, on my own and for my own pocket. Then I met others like me. We joined together and attacked caravans up there on the border. But we werenít common thieves. We had a goal. For a while we joined the Zealots. But when many of them were arrested and crucified, I gave that up. So then I was without a permanent group, but I did belong somewhere. I was a Am-ha-arez. Do you know anything about us?
Yeshua looked up: Are you a Galilean?
Thatís right, friend, and an Am ha arez. One of those who have been circumcised, but no longer lives by the Torah, and why not? Because the Torah is a law made of letters, a barren tree, a dead one. Look at them, the ones who live by the Law! Look at them, the scribes and priests, the hypocrites, the oppressors of the people. Is that what the Law meant? What did Moses write on the tablets? Thou shalt love the Highest One and thy neighbor as thyself. That is the Law and that lives. I am a Galilean, yes, and proud to belong to a people who lets him who thinks differently live in peace. In the mixture of peoples which we now are, one learns that there isnít only one religion.
Shimon said: For a robber you talk big.
Ha, you, the customs agent said, youíre also a Galilean, I hear it from your speech. Tell me, am I right in my opinion about the true Law?
Yeshua said: Friend, how can you be an agent in the service of one who does not observe the highest Law?
The customs agent stood and entered the house. When he came out again, Yeshua said, not that, my friend. We didnít understand what he meant. The man understood though. He brought the purse, which he had hidden, out again.
Here, you take it! he said to Yeshua, but Yeshua told him: Lay it there!
The man laid it on the bench.
Now come, Mathaios! Said Yeshua.††††††
The customs agent opened the gate, let us through and closed it behind us. The bottom line.
I looked at Yeshua. What had he done so that that man simply followed him? Was there some kind of witchcraft involved after all? What kind of power did he have, that he could simply look at someone, who then left his workplace and family, property and house, boat and sure food and followed him blindly? Where to then? Was there a goal? Was there an advantage, some kind of profit? Was it an easy life at his side? Was it the thought of the end of times, was it salvation which he promised as the Essenes did? No. HE was the profit. My profit anyway.
Mathaios, the customs agent, had his own thoughts. I often observed him, how he stared at Yeshua and his question, the question of questions, was left unasked. But once he asked me secretly: What do you think of him? Is he perhapsÖ?
Who then, what then?
So it came out.
What should I answer? I said: Why should he be the Messiah? Isnít the Messiah a war hero, royalty or a priest? And our rabbi: is he either one?
Mathaios was, however, a stubborn questioner. Maybe, he said, itís not yet known, and some day he will reveal it.
So wait! I said, and turned away and was confused, because naturally the question occurred to me as well, but not so urgently.
Another was completely sure that the rabbi, if not exactly the promised Messiah, was certainly Yisraelís savior. That was Yehuda, who came to us one day. The only one from the south, from the city of Karioth in Judea. Clever, but dark. He spoke little, but saw and heard everything. He never laughed and slept little. He was always alongside the rabbi, like a watchdog ready to spring. He only left in order to get news. He became a courier: every day he brought news of arrests, tortures, crucifixions; he noted the rising prices and the taxes, the triple taxes: to the priests, the Romans, the royal court, he described the misery of the poor and the luxurious life of the powerful, and while doing so stared at Yeshua with glowing eyes.
He was a rebel. Yeshua never put him off, he listened silently and calmly. Yochanan didnít like him, Shimon feared him. For the others he was the bringer of news and the money manager. He took over that office on his own. You should know how much you have in the purse; it wonít do to go along blindly.
Yeshua said: If you share the money with the poor, I permit it. But be careful that you donít close your heart in the purse.††††††
Yochanan wrote later that Yehuda was a thief. Malicious talk and untrue. The truth is that Yehuda had not one, but two purses, and he put what we absolutely needed in the second one. For what? Not for him. He didnít take one dinar for himself. He saved the money for the rebellion against the Romans, which must come, and Yeshua would lead it. Yehuda didnít say it so plainly, but it became ever clearer that thatís what he meant. Poor Yehuda. Desperate revolutionary. When he finally realized that Yeshua was not who he wanted him to be, he left and hanged himself from a tree. Yeshuaís dark twin brother: they died on the same day, both on wood, both from suffocation; both names united for all eternity. Yeshua the light, Yehuda his earthly shadow.†††
Once a delegation of scribes came to Yeshua in order to ask him this and that, but they wanted only to know this: if he was the Promised One. Yeshua pulled his cloak closely around him and was silent.
They had barely left when Shimon cried out in a fit of divine enthusiasm: You are no man, you are the son of the Eternal One.
Yeshua said: What are you talking about? Who told you such a thing? Why shouldnít I be a man, Shimon? Listen: I am the son of man. Do you understand that?
Later we discussed it between us: what did Shimon mean? Did he mean that the rabbi was the Messiah? Or what? Afterwards he didnít know himself what came over him. And the rabbi: he didnít say yes, didnít say no, and didnít explain himself.
So everything remained in suspense. It wasnít important for me. I knew only one thing: He was he. And I knew what he was to me: everything.
There was much argument later as to whether Yeshua was the Messiah or not, and if he claimed this high rank for himself and if he even called himself God. Dangerous words. He never spoke them.
What things were put into his mouth by our brothers and friends and later companions, who long after his death chose from the mass of things heard with† gradually fading, overlapping and contradictory recollections Ė what seemed important to them and appropriate to form a teaching and to insure the belief of their listeners. They didnít write history, they preached. Only† one, Yochanan, described the reality, but he was an eagle who flew to the heights, from time to time dived down, in descent grasped a piece of history and rose up again with it, spreading more secrets than simple explaining. Much was deleted, enhanced, prettified, added, deduced in order to accommodate average Jewish and heathen mentalities, also translated from one language to another, and on the other hand demanding unreasonableness, too many miracles as evidence of his divinity beyond the pure teachings, making Yeshua into an occidental magician and his austere teachings into a collection of fairy tales and legends.
Not that the reporters cheated at the cost of the master, not that, they were all committed to the truth, but their eyes and ears were addicted to miracles and they felt it appropriate to ascribe certain characteristics to their beloved master derived from heroic and godly sagas, whereas his only and true heroism lay in the fact that he didnít want to be a hero or do Hercules-like things, but accomplished only the heroic deed of perfect non-violence. The greatest of all heroic deeds.
Much was not written down which would have been important to report: that evening discussion between Yeshua, Yochanan and me, when Yeshua didnít speak in stories and parables, but revealed great mysteries. They also didnít write anything about the conversations between Yehuda and Yeshua, which, in the year of their deaths, was finally plainly and clearly political: about the freeing of Yisrael from the Roman heathens and the question of violence. How they described Yehuda in anger, how they made him into a common criminal who betrayed the master for money. Malicious, foolish twaddle. I always understood him. He was a burning patriot and as passionately loving as none other of us was.†††††††††††††††
I must correct this and much more, and I can, for I am the living memory. Nothing has been lost to me, for I have only my memories. They have remained fresh and clear. Nothing diverts me any more. There are days, though, when my acquired calm is broken, when I receive news from home; when I hear what has been made of Yeshuaís pure teaching and how not our enemies but our friends seize and use it with good intentions or as pretext for this of that objective, which is far from what was meant. Then I scream, so that the bats fly crazily out of the cave and sheep, dogs and shepherd flee in terror. Then the bread and cheese and milk remain untouched for days on end, until I am again resigned to my destiny.
It was hard for me. It is still hard for me to think of how wonderfully it all started back then, when, seven days after Yeshuaís death, we, terrified as hunted hares, hid like followers of a political criminal expecting to be arrested, and how we finally dared to hold the first meeting in that room in which we celebrated the last supper, Yeshua with us, and in which we then sat without him and despaired of being able to continue with our task, his task, and if we should even try and if we shouldnít go back to the old traditions, and when Shimon again had the right idea: ask advice from the Eternal One, and as he recited the psalm of David: ďWhen the Eternal One rises up his enemies scatter, flee before him, the father of orphans, defender of widows, He, the Highest, who leads refugees back home and frees prisoners; show us your power, Adonai! Free the troubled, who have no other helperÖĒ
At this point his voice broke, tears flowed over his face, and then we all wept as our forefathers had wept on the rivers of Babylon.
But suddenly something happened: a gust of wind flowed over us, as if someone had opened the widows and doors which, however, were closed shut and barred, and it was as though the gust of wind had let in a swarm of golden bees or sparks; it howled around us, and then Shimon, our fearful, cowardly Shimon, sprang up, ran to the door, lifted the bar, stood on the threshold, spread his arms out and cried loudly: Citizens of Yerushalayim, hear my words, listen to what I proclaim, I, who was a witness to what occurred in this city a few weeks ago: He whom they killed, Yeshua, rabbi from Nazareth, he lives! He has arisen from death! We saw him, many times and at many places, he walked with us, spoke to us, he ate and drank with us, we touched his scarred wounds, and he promised us to send the Spirit who will give us the strength to announce the truth and to fear nothing, neither prison nor death. That he really died and really rose up from the dead, that is the sign that death has been vanquished, that it has no terror more for us, since we know that we also will rise from the dead. Fear you no more! You are also destined to live with him forever.
Many people gathered around him.
A drunk! Crazy! He is disturbing public order! Starting again with that talk of resurrection! They will give us no peace until they are killed like their crazy rabbi.
But others said: Look how this man stands there without fear. As though he had authority. What is it about this teaching that makes one so courageous? They know something that we donít know. What makes them so sure and full of joy in times of confusion and fear and sorrow? Letís find out so we may be as courageous as they are!
Shimonís words: the fishnet thrown out. It brought hundreds of fish in to us. We went to the city and spoke in the public squares, in all the languages and dialects we knew, some of us even went into the temple and no one threw us out, no one forbade us to speak freely. As though we had become untouchable.
What a beginning! What love at first sight! Now there was no longer anything to fear or to doubt, now the realm of peace had been born, now the promised future had become the present. Many of the newcomers shared their property, everything belonged to everyone, families united to live together in voluntary poverty, and they took in the old, the poor and the orphans, and we came together daily to pray and to attend the remembrance supper. And no one persecuted us. Who could stop the spring storm, who could extinguish the spirit-fire!? But when too many joined us, also from outside the city, and when it was no longer possible to determine who belonged to us and who to political groups, Shimon and Yochanan were arrested and interrogated. And it wasnít Yochanan, the eloquent speaker, but Shimon whose tongue was loosened for all time.
You may forbid us to speak. Do so! But we will speak, again and again, for itís impossible to obey you more that him who is our master and who gave us the mission to publicly bear witness to what we experienced: the death and resurrection of the rabbi Yeshua. And if you silence us by killing us, then thousands of others will proclaim the truth to the world.
One of the councilors, Gamaliel, made a clever suggestion: Let them go, they donít speak against the rulers or law and order. If what they say is true we can do nothing against them, for they are protected by the Father of Truth. If it is all idle lies, they will disappear, as so many others have disappeared.
But they must be punished as a warning, said others.
So it was decided to scourge them.
I saw them returning, bent over and with blue-red lash marks, which they showed us full of pride and drunk with joy that they had been scourged like the Master. The next day they preached again. At first they were left alone.
But when Shimon, in holy exuberance and blind confidence in the rabbiís words, ďWhat I can do, you also canĒ, healed a cripple and some other illnesses, it was too much for the High Council and they arrested both of them again.
You heal the sick. In whose name? Speak the truth; you stand before the High Court.
You also asked our rabbi this question, and you know his answer; it is also ours.
There was nothing to object to in that answer or against the healing, but both were kept preventively in prison until more exact information could be obtained. But they were freed from the jail the following night, by an angel, Shimon said; by a light-form, Yochanan said; by a man who carried a torch and looked like an official and acted like he had authority, the jailor said.
This strange freeing, considered by some to be a miracle, by others to be a sign that we had powerful friends, brought us some new enemies and many new followers. Everything considered, our work was going very well.††††
Continued in the next issue of SCR.
Luise Rinser (1911 - 2002), a schoolteacher who faced execution by the Nazis and lived to write about it, became one of the most celebrated and politically engaged authors in Germany. A best-selling novelist, diarist, short-story writer and political essayist, Ms. Rinser published about 30 books. Her works sold more than five million copies in 24 languages.