by Louise Rinser
Translated by Frank Thomas Smith
Why then couldn’t I be so unreservedly happy like the others? The mustard seed grew too quickly in me. Trees that shoot up too quickly have soft wood. And what a short time ago it was that the people had shouted: Crucify him, the criminal! And what a short time before that they had called out: Hoshiana! However, my worries seemed unjustified. Everything continued to go well, for a long while.
That was when that Councilor Gamaliel, who had spoken in favor of both accused, came to me as leader of one of the groups we called communities. I seemed to him competent to answer his question and he came right to the point: You were Rabbi Yeshua’s companion and are initiated in his teaching, and knew him from close up. Tell me: Who was he?
You know that.
You understand me; why don’t you answer my question?
What should I tell you? He was a person the likes of whom can only exist once on our earth.
There have already been great ones on this earth, great prophets, great saints too. What was special about your rabbi?
Special about him is that you have come and asked me what was special about him. Why do you want to know that?
Because of him I have slept badly for many nights.
Special about him was not ABOUT him, but HE was what was special, and one became different and special alongside him and saw the world in a special way.
Say it more clearly.
More clearly? I can only say it differently: He was the word of eternal love become flesh.
So you say. But how does that fit with him cursing us? “My blood be upon you and your children.” Is that love?
He never said that. Your guilty conscience heard that, or one of ours, a bad reporter, who didn’t understand Yeshua.
If I can believe you, Miryam, and that was not true, then perhaps the other is also untrue: that he said on the cross that he forgives all who are guilty of his death.
No: Father, forgive them, is what he said. But he himself had already forgiven. His death was a complete forgiveness.
Gamaliel covered his face and left.
However: many in the Council were afraid. That crucified one, who they thought finished once and for all along with his teaching, proved himself highly dangerous alive, and some said: We made a mistake, his death makes him a great martyr; and now you see it, they are already inventing legends about him and making him into some kind of god and us their god’s murderers, it will cost us dearly. Just look at this young Stephanos, how he’s acting, he, Gamaliel’s student, who could have dreamed that he would go over to that Galilean. Did you hear that Stephanos said that the rabbi Yeshua, though dead, could rebuild the temple in three days? Outrageous talk. Didn’t we hear it from the Nazarene himself? Destroy the temple: what does that mean except destroy Jewish tradition and introduce another. And his followers believe that, dangerous fools just as he was. So it still goes on. What should we do?
They arrested Stephanos and interrogated him. His defense speech was a masterpiece. It betrayed Gamaliel’s school. The speech: a resume of Yisrael’s history until the construction of the Davidic temple. Before that, Stephanos said, the Eternal One lived with his people without a temple, for it is written that the Eternal One said: Heaven is my throne, the earth my footstool. And he asked his people: What kind of house will you build for me with human hands? Was it not my hand that created everything? Therefore the Eternal One lives not in the temple but in the spirit, and the Eternal One allowed the temple to be built only in order to indulge King Solomon, and not as a dwelling place for Himself. His place is everywhere and forever. You, however, think of stones instead of spirit.
They ejected him from the city, and though Gamaliel tried to defend his student, Stephanos was stoned to death.
One who was looking on was Saul. It is hard for me to talk about him. I will delay it as much as possible. I can’t avoid it, because he cannot be ignored in respect to our history, Jewish and “Christian”, as our movement was later called.
I would rather speak of Yochanan, who was Yeshua’s and my friend. Our conversations were eagles’ flights when we spoke of Yeshua’s teaching. We called these conversations thought-games, but they were much more than that - our struggle to understand what Yeshua called FATHER but was no father as Zeus was, but pure spirit. For Yochanan, Greek educated and Greek thinking, it was difficult to bring his philosophy in harmony with our Jewish conception of the Almighty.
For us Jews God, though inconceivable and infinitely exalted, was nevertheless made according to human measure: he loved and raged, rewarded, punished, took and gave, gave orders, made the testament with his people. It was almost juridical: I offer you loyalty and help, you obey the commandments that I gave you through Moshe. He was OUR God. A Jewish God. At first a tribal god of the original natives; then, with the growing knowledge of the wise among our people, the One and Only, inconceivably great, yet one person, whom one spoke to as Thou, and with whom one could converse, argue, bargain. Infinitely distant and very close. Both in One. We could not name him by his real name. He had many names. They were names for his characteristics, not for him.
Nevertheless: He was PRESENT, he was our contractual partner, and he was our father. The father of all fathers and primeval fathers. We could not conceive of him differently, for we had lived a thousand years under the rule of the fathers.
But Yochanan sprang cleverly over the merely juridical.
We spoke of it often, just the two of us in the night, without witnesses, shocked by our own thoughts.
God is spirit, said Yochanan, and spirit is the same as love.
Or, more mysterious and cleverer: God is THE WORD. He said that in Greek, because he couldn’t find the appropriate word in Hebrew: Logos.
In the beginning was the Word. God himself was the logos, and the logos became flesh and was the Son of the Father and was the light of the world.
That the logos was in the beginning didn’t seem unfamiliar. My Greek friend had told me that before something existed, something was already there: the idea of it, and the idea was spiritual, and the idea took matter to itself and became thing-reality. That in the beginning someone existed in whom all ideas were, also seemed to make sense. Instead of idea, logos. Instead of thing-becoming, creation. But then the thing about the son. Maybe thus: The Highest, logos of all logoi, Yochanan said, wanted a Thou. Every father wants a son, every person a vis-à-vis. The son always existed as idea in the father. And one day the father spoke the word, and from out of the word the son became. Perhaps.
I didn’t take it so seriously, more as a thought-game. But the thing dug deeper marks in me than I thought. Who was this son?
If the logos took on matter, then the word of the son must also appear as earthly matter. It must become human. Human like us.
Yochanan also tormented himself with this question, though neither of us quite understood why it was so important for us.
Didn’t we have anything else to think about?
One day Yochanan drew in the sand. He was imitating the Rabbi, who often did that. What was it that Yochanan drew?
A triangle with the base on the earth, and a second one pointing downwards and meeting the head of the one underneath it.
Yochanan indicated the point where both apexes met: Here HE stands. Here above is the godly domain, here below the human one. No separation, but different domains. HE is the bridge. HE belongs to both domains. Son of God. Son of Man. The logos, which introduces the upper domain into the lower. One day both domains will coincide, and that will be the realm of peace, the realm of the spirit.
And this HE, do you mean our rabbi Yeshua? Do you mean this seriously, or is it another thought-game?
I don’t know.
Let’s keep playing: How did this HE come from his spirit-domain into that of matter?
By conception and birth. How else?
That's what you say. Don’t you know, you half-Greek, the story of the goddess Athena, whom the highest god, Zeus, conceived with himself and carried in his head until she, motherless, sprang from his head as a full-grown woman?
That’s a heathen belief.
Everything heathen isn’t false.
Haven’t you noticed that when Yeshua speaks of his father he doesn’t mean Josef the carpenter, who is long dead?
Yes, I have. And that he looks at his mother like a stranger and calls her madam, not mother. Who is his father, who his mother?
Did you know that his mother grew up in the temple, one of the many chosen daughters of Yisrael, one who, more than any other, met the conditions of the prophesy about the Messiah’s mother?
It seems so. And then they looked for a suitable husband for her.
Who did the choosing?
Temple priests with special powers. Wise ones. Initiates.
Do you believe that?
I don’t know. I know such stories from other religions.
They lead the chosen ones into the temple. Put them into a deep sleep and order them to bed together. Still asleep, they are separated and they remember nothing of what happened, at most a dream of winged beings and spears of light.
But then, when the conceived child comes?
Then it is divinely conceived, fatherless.
And what’s it all for?
In order to be able to declare a man to be God.
Nobody thinks to declare Yeshua God. What are you talking about?
You’re talking about him, not me. I’m only telling what is thought in other religions.
Figments of the imagination, I said and left.
But the whole thing gave me no rest. I secretly watched Yeshua to see if I could perceive his origin. I saw nothing like that. But I thought, it could well be that he came from the spirit-domain to that of matter in an unusual way. This idea of winged beings and spear of light. The spirit who travels into matter and conceives. The logos, which becomes a human child. If this child is a human only in accordance with love, and a god in accordance with spirit? That’s an idea which is not absurd. But why does Yochanan apply it to our rabbi? For he does, even though he denies it. I talk to him.
What do you know of Yeshua’s birth?
Tell me what you know!
Very well: The astrologers had calculated that at a certain point in time there was a very unusual constellation in the sky: a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.
What does that mean?
Jupiter is the king’s star.
Every people has a planet attributed to it. Yisrael’s star is Saturn.
That means that in Yisrael a king will be born, and a special meaning is attached to him. And where is this king, please? We have only one, Herod, and he is miserable.
Yochanan walked away, as though I had insulted him.
Then something occurred to me for the first time, something which shocked me as though it were blasphemy. Why, I thought, did the astrologers assume with such certainty that the foreseen child would be masculine? Why must the Messiah be a man? Why should the Highest be a man? Of course no one said so, for no one could say anything about the Highest that counted. But does even one Jew imagine that this eternal HE could be a woman?
It even seemed ridiculous to me. Not a woman, no, but not a man either. The unnamable, the EVERYTHING, was man and woman.
But the Messiah, couldn’t it be a woman? Aren’t there great women among our people, prophetesses, wise ones, saints and also those who guided their people’s destiny: Jaël, Esther, Jehudit. And weren’t women more suited to bring peace and care for life?
Yochanan, why is man worth more than woman, why this silent agreement that the Highest is a man?
Because the spirit is masculine.
You fool. As if the spirit, although masculine, were bound to the man!
This time it was I who walked away offended.
Now I reacted to Yochanan the same way that Shimon did. When he was a witness to one of our talks, one of the more harmless ones, that is, he shook his head: That you always fly around so high! Who can understand that? What’s it good for? And all those questions about who the rabbi is. Who’s he supposed to be then? He is he. You must love him, then you’ll know who he is.
That Shimon. He was so simple. A fisherman who knew nothing except what he’d heard in the synagogue, and accepted it without thinking. But when Yeshua bent his finger and said: Come! He left everything behind, the boat and the net, and said to his wife: Wait for me, I have something important to do. She waited. Later she also left her home and accompanied Shimon to Yerushalayim, and then farther, to Rome. I don’t know if she witnessed his death, but I have reliable information that they crucified Shimon, like the Master, but differently: with his head pointing downward. I can imagine how willingly and as a matter of course he accepted that. He was always ready to throw himself off a cliff, naturally, we said among ourselves, as long as the rabbi grabbed the edge of his coat at the last moment and was satisfied with the good intention, as the Highest was satisfied that Avraham was willing to sacrifice his son, and nothing more was expected. Ja’akob told me that Shimon had seen the rabbi after his death return from the realm of the deadand walk on the water of the sea as though on dry land. Then he jumped out of the boat and ran after the rabbi, thinking that he had called him, but halfway across he lost his nerve and sank. Just in time for the rabbi to pull him out. Shimon was very ashamed. I don’t know whether the story is true or not, probably one of us invented it. But it shows how Shimon was: a child, very lovable in his humble zeal.
Once I asked him: You are married, have a family and responsibilities. How could you simply walk away? And the rabbi, how could he have wanted that? What if everyone did that?
That’s the way it was. He said come and I came. And you, you also did it!
I’m independent, that’s a difference, or not?
He hung his head. You couldn’t ask him such things. He couldn’t answer. He himself was the answer to such questions.
Once I noticed that he carried a dagger under his cloak.
You, Shimon, are you with the Zealots?
His face went red. You never know, he said.
If you’ll need it some day.
You would kill, Shimon? Or do you carry the thing to cut twigs?
He was stubbornly silent.
Once, however, he pulled the knife in earnest: when Yeshua was arrested, and he cut off one of the guard’s ears; it could just as well have been his head.
Who was Yeshua to him though? Did he take him for the Messiah? I don’t know.
The flash of knowledge that once let him see the divine in Yeshua had gone out, and he walked in darkness until that day when the flash touched him a second time, fifty days after Yeshua’s death. Under the impact of the great light the trembling earth steadied: kefa. Rock. Later they called him by the Latin name Petrus, which also means: the rock.
The rabbi loved him very much. Yochanan saw it with restrained jealousy, he was a jealous one. As though he were never sure if the rabbi loved him, he felt it necessary to continuously reconfirm it: “The disciple whom the master loved.” Oh Yochanan, no one denied you your place on his breast, and also not under the cross. Both of us stood there, you and I, and held out until the end.
But we didn’t always agree. There were two points of contention. One belonged to our thought-games, the other to hard reality.
The thought-game, which was played for high stakes, our understanding of Yeshua’s teaching, never ended.
The impulse was a parable that Yeshua told. A farmer sowed wheat. A part of the seeds fell along the way and was trampled and eaten by birds. Another part fell on hard ground and dried out. A part fell into a thorn bush, grew, but was smothered by the underbrush. A small portion fell on good earth and produced rich fruit.
Naturally we understood the point. The seeds were his words. But: what kind of farmer is it that sows so sloppily? He must know his own land. Really: who sows in thorns, who sows on rock! Is it the seeds’ fault if they can’t grow?
Rabbi, either you chose a bad example, or wanted to tell us a terrible truth.
He said: You’re not thinking it through. There is not only one time for sowing and one summer for reaping. The great offer is repeated. The possibility for the ascension of man is endless.
Fine, but that doesn’t explain why the farmer is so foolish. Can he waste his seed that way? Or is his faith in the harvest so great that he trusts even the rock to be fruitful.
Yeshua said: No seed is lost.
With that we were satisfied for the moment, even Yochanan and I.
But already on the next evening Yeshua rolled another stone in the way.
A man, he said, wanted to have a feast and sent messengers to invite friends and neighbors. But they came back with only excuses. One would marry the next day and had no time or desire. Another had to buy a piece of land on that day. A third had to pick up a pair of oxen he had bought. They all had something more important to do than attend the feast. The host said to the messengers: Bring me all those who no one invites, those who hang out in the alleys, the beggars, the landless, the sick, the girls for sale. They are to be my guests. They all came. It was a beautiful feast.
Mathaios said: The story is different, I know it from the Persians. The invitees didn’t want to come because they mistrusted the host, who knows why, maybe they smelled a trap. In any case, they beat up the messengers. And then, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, the host sent out other messengers and they beat up the ones who had beaten the first messengers.
That, said Yeshua, is not my story.
Yehuda said: I don’t understand why the man invites people he knows won’t come. He is as foolish as the farmer who sows wheat on stone. You’ve got to know people, you’ve got to reckon with their badness. The earth is no paradise where the lamb sleeps with the lion.
Yes, Yeshua said, you have to know people, you are right, Yehuda. But what does “know a person” mean. He looked at Yehuda in a way that sent shivers down my spine and we all felt an oppression like a loss of breath.
Only Yehuda didn’t seem to feel anything. He said dryly: I would like to know how the story really ended. Probably it has no end. The people from the street, the poor, the despised, had a nice evening because of a rich man’s mood, they filled themselves, drank wine instead of water. Good. And then? Then they were sent outside and everything stayed the same for them. The landless stayed without land, the sick stayed sick, the beggars poor. What I would like to know is: what did the rich man do after the feast? That’s the main thing. Did he repeat it, did he keep his house open for the poor, did he do anything to alleviate poverty? Your story makes me uneasy, Rabbi. Should we praise this rich man because he was good once? And his goodness isn’t even good. It’s nothing more than disappointment and revenge.
Yehuda, Yeshua said, you are missing the point, and you know it.
Yehuda was stubbornly silent.
But Yeshua kept it up. It was obvious that he wanted to pound the truth into us. But which truth?
The next night he came with another story, one that tasted bitter to us all this time.
There was supposed to be a wedding, everything was ready, only the bridegroom was missing. Evening came, then night, the guests became nervous, the bride began to fear that he would not came or had lost his way. So she called ten girls, had them fill their oil lamps and place them along the way. They stood there and waited hour after hour. They were tired and fell asleep. At midnight they heard the call: the bridegroom is coming. But they sat in the dark, for the lamps had gone out. Five of the girls had brought an oil supply with them, and they filled their lamps. The others had to go into town first to get oil. Meanwhile, however, the bridegroom arrived and took the girls whose lamps were burning into the hall and closed the doors. When the others came, no one let them in no matter how much they called out and knocked.
What a terrible story, I said. What kind of bridegroom is that who makes everyone wait so long for him? There’s no more oil, the food gets cold, the guests mistrustful, the bride is worried to death, and no one knows if this bridegroom will come and if he even exists and if the wedding will take place. And who knows if he who finally arrives is really the bridegroom. Maybe the bride is still waiting. And those who were shut out. They stand outside, having arrived a little late, and they let them knock and call out, although their lamps are lit again. What a hard man is that bridegroom. Rabbi, your story is a bad one. What does it have to do with you? Wouldn’t you, in case you were the bridegroom, wouldn’t you leave all the doors open? Could you happily celebrate the wedding when there are those who are shut out? Shouldn’t you have rebuked the girls who didn’t share their oil? Listen, Rabbi, I will share my oil and I will take those who are shut out with me into the hall, or I will stay with them outside.
Yeshua said: You are right.
How can you say, Rabbi, that I am right when your story is quite different? Or you aren’t telling the real ending, and its ending isn’t its ending, and no one knows the ending. The bride is still waiting.
Yes, she is waiting, she is always waiting, and her waiting is her wedding.
Whoever can understand that, let them, I said, and left.
But that evening Yochanan and I returned to the subject of course, and our thought-game was harsh. Always this talk about the chosen, I said; it’s too much like the Essenes for me. The pure, the select, the saved, the grain of wheat that remains in the sieve when the chaff has been sifted.
But how can it be otherwise? Salvation in mass without paying attention to how one lives? Mustn’t the person choose himself? Isn’t he free?
Free? Does the seed choose it’s soil? It’s sowed whether it wants to be or not. Check out the soil and put forth roots. It’s up to you. One receives knowledge, the other doesn’t. And whoever doesn’t receive it, then nothing can be demanded of him, and he can’t be punished because he doesn’t have it.
How can you say that there are people who aren’t given knowledge? Don’t we all come from the same father’s house? Aren’t we all children of love? Does the father send any of his children into the desert without an inheritance? Is it the father’s fault if the children waste the inheritance?
The question remains, Yochanan: How is it that one child wastes the inheritance and the other multiplies it? That’s the real question and it always comes down to the same thing: there are chosen and not chosen. And that Yeshua confirms that doesn’t agree with me, because it doesn’t agree with him.
But if the person is so free that he chooses his own rejection?
Who would be so impudent or foolish to do such a thing?
Do you know the saga of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods in order to bring it to men although he knew that it was forbidden and the punishment would be terrible? One must think of the greatness of man and his freedom.
That was one of our thought-games, and playing it was a compulsion and agonized us and led to nothing. That story was one of our points of conflict. The other was palpable, but no less difficult and painful. It had to do with the story about the wedding. We couldn’t get over it. WHO was the bridegroom? WHO the bride?
Did it mean the Messiah? Was Yisrael the waiting bride?
Yehuda, who intervened in this discussion because he considered himself competent, said: The thing is clear. The bride waits for the bridegroom. She has waited so long that she already doubts if he will ever come, or even if he exists. And then he comes after all, at midnight, that is when it’s darkest and no one expects him. Well, do you understand? When Yisrael is in deepest misery, he comes.
With burning eyes, but softly, he added: Maybe he’s already here.
We didn’t take up the point. That was the forbidden question.
But I asked this: And the girls who wait, some with burning lamps and others without?
Simple. Those without oil are those among us who think that liberation will fall into their laps like manna and the quails in the desert. Like those back there in the caves. Like all who don’t want to get their hands dirty. Eat the lamb, yes, but others must slaughter it.
What are you saying, Yehuda? You mean violence.
Did I say that? You dreamt it. But you don’t dare to think clearly. You, Yochanan, you talk of love. The rabbi talks of love and peace. So: what is love for Yisrael? What then? To watch while it’s destroyed? Or doesn’t love for Yisrael mean to fight for its liberation? Who fights, kills. To love Yisrael means to kill several thousand Romans. How else should it happen? Tell me, you wise, you pious ones!
What he said was so reasonable, and so terrible. But didn’t he have the correct view of the reality? And we others: weren’t we dreamers?
When I was alone with Yochanan, I said: Yehuda confuses me. Something in me says he is right. At one time, before I met the group, I also had a dagger, and if I hadn’t met you, but a group of rebels, I would have gone with them.
And you would have killed.
And perhaps have been killed.
And nothing would have changed.
Death for a great cause is not in vain.
Then go and kill and let yourself be killed! This half-heartedness isn’t worthy of you.
Half-heartedness? Am I not with the rabbi with all my heart? What can I do if my Maccabee blood stirs? What can I do if I’m not like you?
What am I like? There’s mockery in your voice.
What are you like? Sometimes you seem like a little lamb, sometimes like an eagle. What you really are isn’t yet defined.
You’ll find out. There are times when people consider him a hero who kills many foes, and there are times when the hero is he who offers the other cheek when he’s hit in the face. That’s what the rabbi says. The one who hits back doesn’t realize that he’s hitting himself.
That is very nicely said. But then Yisrael’s whole history would be wrong. We were hit, and we hit back.
Yes, and what was the result? We lost everything.
Now keep your feet on the ground, Yochanan: according to you we must silently tolerate the Romans and that pack of friends and profiteers. Don’t give me that, please! And don’t say now what’s on the tip of your tongue.
The thing with the coin. Must we pay taxes to the Romans, Rabbi? I wasn’t there so I didn’t hear his answer. But you spread it around: Whose likeness is on the coin? The emperor’s. So, give to the Emperor what is due to him, and to the Eternal One what is his. That really makes me angry.
Now YOU keep your feet on the ground! Could he have said: deny Rome the taxes? Don’t you understand what he meant? Not that we should humble ourselves before the Romans. He meant something completely different. What is money? Nothing. What you give to the emperor is nothing. Let him have it.
You say that money is nothing. Tell that to the people! Tell the farmers: pay taxes willingly, for that which you pay is nothing. The money they must pay is another word for wheat and wine and freedom! Now don’t start with the Essene teaching: the end of time nears, you don’t need money and property anymore. Don’t tell me that.
If you don’t want to hear it, I’ll be silent.
So be silent.
Again we parted arguing. Of course: he was right, but Yehuda was also right. Each spoke in his own language. I began to understand: each spoke of a different reality. However: are there two realities? Does a realm exist in which the law of violence counts, and one in which it does not? One in which you defeat the enemy with weapons, and one in which you disarm him before he attacks by throwing away your own weapon and approaching him and giving him the fraternal kiss? Does that exist? What enemy would not think such a person a fool or a turncoat, a despicable coward? No, that won’t work. But how then? Always attack and counter-attack? And so on forever? To keep spinning the black wheel?
 Translator’s note: The word spirit (Geist) is masculine in German, probably also in Aramaic.
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.