by Luise Rinser
The sun had gone down red under the smoke from the fires, and the moon rose high, almost full, and I still ran through the alleys like one who had no family and hadnít been invited to the Seder meal.
People spoke to me twice, taking me for homeless or poor and wanting to take me home with them, as is every Jewís duty. But also: two men spoke to me: you, a Jewess, arenít at the meal? Or arenít you a Jewess? Anyway, youíre pretty, come, weíll pay you well.
They grabbed me, I broke free, they chased me, I fought with hands and feet, they fought too, and ripped off my cloak. Then I got away from them. My cloak lay on the ground. I remembered something: ďThe guards found me on their rounds through the city, the wall guards took away my cloakĒ. The night was cold. I froze. I ran to Veronicaís to ask for a wrap of some kind.
Are you crazy to run around tonight? And how you look! Come in, weíre just stating the Hallel.
I canít, let me go.
She gave me a shawl of white wool, nice and warm, but white. We didnít realize that the whiteness acted as a signal in the moonlit night. And we couldnít guess what a puzzle that white shawl would pose for those who were with us later on the
Mount of Olives. A white form of light, an angel with a chalice full of consolation. Too much.
But that hadnít happened yet. I sought out a dark corner from where I could see the† door of the house in which our people would have the Seder meal. I heard footsteps. I recognized his among them all. Before he entered he turned and looked in my direction. I held my breath until the door had closed behind him and the others. I stood there and stared at the window behind which there was light, and I heard the songs and the blessings and knew what was happening: now the host blesses the first cup, now they wash their hands, now they dip the herbs in the salty water and eat them, now the host blesses the matzo and puts a piece aside, now the host begins to read the story of the departure from Egypt, now they sing the HallelÖ
I didnít hear the words. I looked up at the moon which, waning, hung gloomily over the temple mount, and then I saw a cat slinking over a wall toward a crevice in which a dove sat. Such bitter anger overcame me that I threw a stone at it and yelled: Thou shalt not kill!
I didnít hit it, it sprang over the wall, the dove fluttered off. Murder, murder everywhere. I gnashed my teeth, like Yehuda.
Yehuda: now he is at the table, now he drinks some wine, now he eats a piece of matzo, now he dips the bitter herb in the stewed fruit, now he eats the bitter herb between two pieces of Matzo, now he drinks from the second cup. And always together with Yeshua, always under Yeshuaís gaze. How can he stand it? Now they bring the roasted lamb. That they can eat on this night! Doesnít it stick in anyoneís throat? Doesnít anyone choke on a bone?
That smell of roasted flesh. I feel sick. So many lambs killed. Murder, murder. I return to my corner. They are finished eating. They sing the final prayer. Now they drink from the third cupÖ
The door opens and someone comes out, ducks into the shadow of the wall, stays there a moment, then runs away as though being chased. Where is he going? What remains for him to do?
In the room they began to sing the third part of the Hallel. Time for me. I knocked the agreed signal on the door, someone let me in, I went up the stone stairs, entered the room and looked for my place at the table. Yeshua pointed to it: at the end of the table. His mother sat at the other end. The place opposite him remained unoccupied. It remained unoccupied forever.
No one asked me why I had come so late. Afterwards Yochanan told me that the rabbi said when I was still missing: Letís start, sheíll come at the right time.
The meal was over. Yeshua stood and accompanied the guests to the door. He gave us a sign to stay. We sat down again. What would come now? Yeshua had a bowl brought in, a pitcher of water and a large linen cloth. What for, we had already washed our hands.
It wasnít hands that were to be washed. Yeshua placed the bowl and pitcher on the floor, girded his robe high and kneeled before those who sat on his right and left: Shimon. He jumped up: ĒRabbi, what are you doing? Stand up, I beg you!
Sit down, Shimon, so that I can wash your feet.
Rabbi, no, never. You, of whom the great Baptist said: I am not worthy to tie his sandals!
Yochanan said softly: The heathen Romans do that during their Saturnalia. Masters and servants exchange roles.
Yeshua heard him: Yes, but the exchange is a joke and is only valid for a few days. For us, however, it is a sign of the new testament between the Godhead and humanity, and therefore between man and man. In my kingdom there are neither servants nor masters, neither rich nor poor, neither powerful nor powerless. In my kingdom each is the servant of the other. My kingdom stands on these words, as does peace on this earth. Therefore sit down, Shimon!
While he was washing and drying the feet of one after the other, he said: When I leave you, and it will be soon, I leave in order to come back. If I did not leave, I could not return.
Shimon cried: Take us with you, Rabbi! Wherever you go I want to follow. I want to give my life for you.
Yeshua said: Friend Shimon, this night you will deny that you know me. Before the cock crows and morning dawns, you will have denied me.
Rabbi, what are you saying! That will never happen.
It will, Shimon. But what you say will also happen: you will lose your life for me.
When, Rabbi, when?
I saw Yeshua smile, for the way Shimon said it didnít sound like he was very anxious to die for the rabbi.
Yeshua said: When I have left you, I will send the spirit of knowledge to you, and with the knowledge of truth also the strength to die for it. Not all of you will die a violent death, but none of you will be spared from death. Iím not speaking of the death which everyone dies at the end of their years on earth. I speak of the death which precedes rebirth in the spirit.
Someone asked: Rabbi, how can one die and be reborn before the end of his years on earth?
Yeshua said: Whoever does not sacrifice himself to something greater than his I will never be reborn. Whoever holds fast to his I will lose it, whoever sacrifices it, will have it. Only he who burns up his I in the fire of love will enter into my kingdom and find me there again, and there will be no more separation.
When he came to me he said: Miryam, you washed my feet with your tears. Now it is my turn to render you this service.
Then he looked up and said: Smile, Maccabee woman! Victory is surely ours. But count no longer in years and decades. Count in aeons, as I do.
Then he walked around the table and came to his mother, but he didnít wash her feet. He said: You need no washing, you are pure from the beginning and the grand handmaiden.
And he embraced her.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††
Then he had the bowl, jug and cloths taken away and sat again in his place. The Seder feast had ended long ago. We heard footsteps and talking and laughter from the alleyways. The people who had been guests at various places were on their way home, full and cheerful, for Passover was a joyful celebration: the remembrance that our forefathers had been freed from Egyptian captivity by Moshe and the waters of the sea plunged down over the Egyptian soldiers and Miryam and her women sang and danced.
Yeshua waited until it was quiet outside. Then he called for a fresh matzo and a large cup of wine. He then broke the matzo into small pieces and said: This is how I will be broken, this is how everything living will be broken, for everything still stands under the law of death.
Then he dipped a piece of Matzo in the wine, and said: And this is how all will be reunited when I steep the earth with my blood. From then on the law of death will no longer be valid, but rather eternal life in the spirit.
He ate the first piece which was dipped in wine. Then he stood up, went from one to the other, handed each a piece of matzo and had them drink a sip of wine.
Four cups of wine belong to the Seder feast. But this fifth one: did it belong as a sign of abundance? Or was it already the first cup of a new feast?
But there was no time to think, for something happened which was not attainable by thinking and which all of us experienced in a like manner; we confirmed it later: the room was no longer a room, it had extended into boundlessness, and with the room we were consumed by a silent white light. It seemed as if we had been sitting for an immeasurable time in nowhere. But as Yeshua began to speak I realized that I still had the piece of matzo in my mouth. No more time had elapsed than that between chewing and swallowing.
Yeshua said: What you ate and drank, I am, and I am the life which death knows not. As often as you repeat this meal, you eat and drink ME.††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††
Then he stood and said to Yochanan: Take my mother home and come back quickly. It is time for me to go. Hear what I tell you: Do not be confused by all that you see during the next hours and days. It must happen. It is my will since eternity. I must leave in order to be able to return. Do you understand that? Will you think of it when you see me like a worm, kicked, beaten, spit upon and hanging on a cross? It is only Passover: transitory. Passage. Come now, I wish to spend this night, as much of it as remains for me, on the
Mount of Olives.
He didnít say: Come with me! As he usually did. But we all followed him. We went through the lower town and through the KIdron valley. We had to pass through a gate there. It was heavily guarded. Why did the watchmen let us through? Yochanan whispered something to them and they let us pass. Did he know the password? Who gave it to him? Nicodemus? Or did he have other important friends on the Council?
We came to the crossroads where
was to the right and the olive grove, which belonged to the Bethany Gethsemaneestate, to the left. My hope was that Yeshua would turn right, go to , sleep there in safety overnight and leave the area tomorrow, and everything would be all right. And then? What then? There was no then and no other. He had to turn left, he had to go to the grove, he had to follow his path to its end. Bethany
I went with him. I would have gone to death with him had he allowed it.
Shimon said: Rabbi, is it smart to stay here? The watchmen recognized you. They can betray you to the henchmen.
Shimon, another has already betrayed me.
Rabbi, whoever it is, Iíll find out and take care of him. He should only show himself! Here! This! And he touched the purse on his belt in which he carried a dagger.
Shimon, Shimon, get away from me. Your betrayal would be worse than that of he whom you want to stab.
Rabbi, I only mean it as love for you.
Shimon, donít be presumptuous. There are many forms of love. Donít talk like a child. I tell you: You shouldnít kill even in thought.
But if someone attacks you, RabbiÖ
Yeshua gave him no answer, for Shimon knew it.
We continued walking until Yeshua said: Stay here and be on guard.
Be sure that we are on guard tonight! We will take turns. Donít worry!
He walked on. It was dark under the old olive trees. I sat in a position so I could watch Yeshua, but also the path that led up from the city.
I sat apart from the others. They wanted to stand guard? One after the other they sat down. For a while I heard them talking. From the tone they were reciting prayers.
Then it gradually became quiet. They had fallen asleep.
After a while I heard Yeshuaís steps and voice: Youíre sleeping? Didnít you want to stay awake with me? They jumped up like surprised children. Yeshua had hardly left when they fell asleep again, and again after a while Yeshua came and found them sleeping, and then a third time.
The third time Yeshua said: Sleep then, the night will be long.††††††††
Why didnít he think of me? Shouldnít he have known that I stood guard with him? Who else but she whom he called Maccabee woman?
I crept toward him until I was close. He must have heard my footsteps, and he certainly felt my nearness. But he didnít turn around. Was I a bother to him at that moment? He could have sent me away. He didnít. He tolerated the witness.
He was kneeling. As the moon wandered farther a little light fell on him through two tree tops. His face was wet with sweat. He looked like someone who had just left a boxing ring.
Rabbi! Iím here.
I know, Miryam.
Should I go?
Stay. Come closer.
Rabbi, how cold your hands are. Tonight mine are warm.
Miryam, when we next see each other I will be hanging on a cross and you will stand below and our eyes will meet for the last time. But the separation will be short. Have courage, my Maccabee woman. Your courage gives me strength.
Rabbi, take my strength! You are suffering beyond measure.
It is MY measure, Miryam. Thatís why I have come to earth, in order to suffer all human suffering. Your suffering is also mine. All the wounds of this earth come to me. All despair falls on me. I must outweigh the measure of your suffering with mine. If only a small amount were missing, the scales would be out of balance. Go now, Miryam! This comfort is now also forbidden me.
No more embrace. He was already taken from me. But I was not able to leave him alone. I hid behind a tree. I also had to suffer my full measure. To see him suffering so was beyond measure.
Suddenly I saw lights between the olive trees. They moved in a column coming up the hill. Friend or foe?††††††††
Yeshua must have seen them. He stood up and approached them. The sleepers woke up. They gathered around Yeshua. They understood: these were the henchmen, the time had come.
He pushed the disciples aside and continued to approach the henchmen.
Who are you looking for?
Yeshua, the Galilean, the rabbi from
I am he.
What happened then? Why didnít they grab him? Why did they step back? For a few moments it was as if a living picture had turned to stone. What had these rude soldiers heard?
I AM HE.
Nothing more. But this was THE WORD.
Then one of them shook off the immovability. Yehuda went up to Yeshua: Shalom, Rabbi!
And he kissed him.
Yeshua looked him full in the face. I was standing near. I saw Yeshuaís look: it was full of compassion and of something I must call respect. For an instant they stood next to each other like brothers, equal to equal, conditioned by destiny. I didnít see Yehudaís face, but I heard Yeshua say: Friend, what are you doing? He said it so softly that one could expect that such gentleness would disarm Yehuda. But it was just the gentleness that infuriated Yehuda. Had Yeshua defended himself, had he cried: ďRise up against the RomansĒ Ė Yehuda would have carried him on his shoulders and converted the henchmen into followers.
But that didnít happen. Yeshua held his hands out to the henchmen as though in greeting.
The tied him with rope.
Shimon jumped forward in rage and drew his dagger.
No, not that! Yeshua cried.
But Shimon had already struck, blindly, and he hit a henchman on the ear. But then he was afraid and fled. Instead of him a henchman grabbed me, but he got only my white shawl, which remained in his hands. Then I fled.
We all fled, if not all the same distance. Today I think: What could we have done at that time? Run into the city, call the rebels together, give the signal for the uprising?
Yeshuaís disciples: cowards. Later they would be heroes, some dying grand deaths for their loyalty to Yeshua.
We followed the henchmenís path at a safe distance. But the gate closed behind them. Punishment for our cowardice: banishment from participation in the great tragedy. But once again a word from Yochanan and the gate was opened for us. We were able to keep up with the henchmen.
Where did they bring Yeshua?
They turned in the Kidron valley at the lower town and went up the stairway to Hananyaís house. The path ended in the courtyard.
Why Hananya? He wasnít the high priest that year, he was only the high priest Caiaphasís father-in-law.
Hananya was not competent to preside over a trial, but perhaps it wasnít to be a trial, perhaps that experienced old man had doubts about was said about this Yeshua, good and bad, perhaps he was really interested, who knows.
What is the content of your teaching? In whose name do you act, in whose name do you heal the sick and drive out demons?
Yeshua said: I have taught in public, all could hear me, I have healed in public, all could see me. So why do you ask?
On of them struck him in the face: You are to answer when asked.
Yeshua spoke softly, but everyone in the courtyard could hear him: If I have spoken unjustly, prove it to me; but if I have spoken justly, why do you strike me?
I almost shouted: Does the Law allow one to be struck who hasnít yet been declared guilty?
But I bit my hand and forced myself to be silent.
Obviously Hananya also thought that they were acting illegally, and he said sullenly: Take him away.
They did so. We followed him. Nobody stopped us. They made Yeshua wait, still fettered, in the courtyard of the house where Caiaphas had his office. They didnít even allow him to sit. A fire burned in the center of the yard. I would have liked to warm myself, the night was cold, but I didnít dare step into the light. Shimon did. A maid who was putting wood on the fire looked at him suspiciously: Youíre one of the accusedís followers!
But I donít know this man.
You betray yourself, you speak Galilean like him.
I swear that I donít know him.
A cock crowed into the dawn.
ďBefore the cock crows, ShimonÖĒ
Yeshua turned to Shimon Ė who ran away.
They let him go.
Poor Shimon. As long as he lived he deplored that moment. But on the other hand: What could he have done? What he wanted was to be near the rabbi as long as possible.
So only Yochanan and I remained, Yochanan with some secret permission, which also included me. Yeshua must have sensed that we were near. Once he turned his face in the direction where I sat. I whispered his name, but I doubt that he heard me. They made him wait.
The guards were bored. They blindfolded him, struck him and said: Prophet prophesy: Who hit you?
I trembled with anger. If I jumped up and cried: Play that game with me, strike me, leave him alone!?
Ridiculous idea. Who would have struck me, a woman against whom there was no complaint? It would have caused laughter, nothing more.
With every blow I dug my fingernails deeper into my palms. At least that. Finally Yeshua was led away, still bound. This time Yochananís words had no effect, they held us back. I pressed a piece of gold into a policemanís hand. He took it, but didnít let us pass.
They brought Yeshua to Caiaphas, the high priest.
We found out what happened there from Nicodemus in the time between the hearings by Caiaphas and those by
Pilatus. Yeshua really had a legal trial. They even had witnesses who testified individually. What did he say about the temple, its destruction and rebuilding? But the testimonies were contradictory. Finally the whole accusation broke down. The court had nothing concrete.
Commotion and confusion.
The only possibility was to make the accused confess.
But confess to what?
What do you say to the accusations brought against you?
Yeshua, who stood in front of the steps on which Caiaphas stood and was therefore lower then him, looked calmly up at the high priest like one who is stronger looks down upon a weakling and Caiaphas, according to Nicodemus, was conscious of it and it confused him, and the confusion grew when the accused remained silent.
You must answer!
Then Caiaphas went down the stairs, stood in front of Yeshua, grabbed his garment at the neck and cried: I tell you to swear by the Almighty to tell us: Are you the Messiah, the son of the Almighty?††††††
It was, Nicodemus said, not a question for a criminal hearing, but the tremendous and desperate question of Yisrael, even no longer a question, but an oath with the highest and most holy formal oath known to Yisrael, and to which not to answer or to answer falsely would be considered blasphemy.
A terrible silence followed.
Then Yeshua, having been forced to answer, said, without raising his voice, simply, just as he might have answered a common question: You say it.
Now they had what they wanted: blasphemy. Caiaphas tore his garment, a confused tumult filled the court: the death penalty.
But Rabbi Nicodemus, I said, thatís not correct. He didnít say: I am the Messiah and the son of the Almighty, he said: You said it. That means: You say that, not I. And furthermore: even if he presented himself as the Messiah, as some before him had done without being punished, you canít simply add the second part of the sentence in the same breath: the son of the Almighty. They were two completely different charges. It doesnít make sense.
Miryam, it makes no sense and it does. Whatever Yeshua may have answered, he would have been misunderstood because he had to be misunderstood, because it was so decided since eternity.
The judgment had been made: death. For that only
ís representative was competent: Pontius Pilatus. Rome
It was morning, the city was awake. A pile of ants. We were pushed, shoved, stepped upon. The pilgrims for the feast were there, and many more had come, whole families, almost whole villages with donkeys and provisions for the whole week, and those who found no place to sleep in the city went back through the city walls to look outside for camping sites, tents, huts, caves. There was so much movement in and out that Yochanan and I had trouble keeping together.
Yochanan, these people have no idea of whatís happening today and that their fate is being decided at this very moment. Listen to how they laugh and joke. They all live. Look how they live. Everything may live: the doves, cats, lizards, donkeys, and things live in the earth and the grass lives and the worms in the earth. The sun shines on the whole swarm of life. But he must die, Yochanan. He will die! Yes, yes, I already know what you want to say. So keep quiet. What do you know of my love? Keep silent, above all no false words of consolation, no pious speeches or Iíll scream!
He looked at me, shocked. My hair had come undone, I must have looked like a rabid bitch.
So he said nothing. I knew what he was thinking: As if I, Yochanan, whom the rabbi loves, donít also suffer! What do you know of my suffering?
We walked on together that way for a while, pushed, shoved, and both of us suffered from an overdose of sorrow and fear.
At a corner someone bumped into us, cursing loudly and terribly and tearing his clothes as he ran. A madman.
He ran on, tripped, fell, got up again and lost himself in the crowd.
Finally we came to the large square in front of the Praetorium. What did all those people want here so early? And what people they were! Not pious pilgrims, they went to the temple. Also not honest merchants and feudal masters. Those faces, lean and hard and decided, were rebel faces.
I asked a man: Whatís going on here?
Nothingís going on, as you can see.
Another said: And weíre here because nothingís going on.
I said: Should something be happening?
What are you blabbering about? This is no place for females.
I said softly: Your liberation decision, which is it: Yeshua of Nazareth or Bar Abba?
Who are you anyway?
Someone who knows the Rabbi Yeshua well.
Then you know a windbag.
How dare you say that about him!
Hoho, old girl. Watch your tongue and your eyes.
The other said: Heís finished, theyíll crucify him, thatís for sure.
Yochanan kicked me to shut up.
But I didnít shut up.
What did Rabbi Yeshua ever do to you?
Made us hope, then left us flat.
Before I could answer Yochanan dragged me away.
We pushed forward and finally got right in front of the terrace on which Pontius Pilatus was to appear.
Like a bee swarm gradually stills its buzzing, it became quiet in the square, for a column of high priests, scribes and police came, and in the middle Yeshua, still bound. It became so quiet that one could hear the pigeons cooing. Then
Pilatuscame out of the building. That was surprising. Otherwise he acted behind closed doors. But because it was forbid for Jews to enter a courthouse before Passover, the Romans had to come out in order to satisfy them.
Yeshua stood to the side of him. They looked at each other.
Pilatusgave the sign for the priests to state their complaint. One of them spoke:
This man, Yeshua Ben Josef of
in Nazareth Galilee, rabbi, wandering preacher, is the cause of great unrest among our people. He claims to be the Messiah and the king of the Jews.
Pilatusknew the story. Caiaphas or some other member of the High Council had already informed him early that morning.
I found out what he thought of the case a few hours later from Veronica, who secretly had a relationship through a friend with Procula,
Pilatuswas already in the picture before the visit of the High Council men. He wanted nothing to do with the case, which was so Jewish that he didnít understand it.
What, by Jupiter and all the gods, had this Jew Yeshua done wrong? Incite the people? The people had been in a state of unrest for a hundred years, not since three years, since the appearance of this Galilean. Understandable that they were dissatisfied. Which occupied people was ever satisfied? Furthermore this Yeshua had never said anything against the Romans, at least not directly and before reliable witnesses. There were other, real rebels, and the Jews had never demanded their death. There was this Bar Abba, a rebel, a leader even, who was in jail, and no one from the High Council paid any attention to him. So what was so special about this one?
I can find no guilt.
Much shouting: He claimed to be the Messiah!
Pilatussaid angrily: There are enough men around here who claim to be the Messiah. That is not a crime that merits the death penalty. By the way, isnít he a Galilean? Then he comes under Herodís tetrarch. He came to your feast in the city. Bring this man to him.
The people grumbled. Why all this fuss? Why the delay?
They led Yeshua, still bound, to Hasmonae palace where Herod, who usually lived in another palace in
or Jericho Caesarea, was residing during those days, for he was also a Jew although it was said not of pure blood, but according to belief and circumcision, and therefore he had come to Yerushalayim for the feast. As a Jew he also hated the Romans. As one of the richest and most powerful men in the land he also hated the restless lower classes and all the rebels and all new ideas. Basically he hated everyone and everything. An unhappy man. Since he had had the Baptist beheaded, egged on by his wife and stepdaughter, he knew no peaceful moments. They said that he wandered around the palace at night and saw ghosts who presented him with their heads on silver platters. The thing with this Yeshua was making him nervous again. Could the Baptist have come back? The people at court had already begun to say that the Galilean must be neutralized. But was there a reason for that? There was none. Simply kill him? Not possible either: too many people stood behind that rabbi. Then an opportunity came to smoothly resolve that awkward situation. He and the Romans hated each other. But what did that matter now? If the Romans killed this Yeshua it mattered not at all to Herod. Roman law applied to everyone who lived in a Roman province and (here was an obvious hitch) acted against the Romans, which means endangered state security. Could that be attributed to the Galilean?
It could: He claimed to be the Messiah. And it is said that the Messiah is to be the king of the Jews, and what else does that mean than that he will free Yisrael from the occupying power. If that isnít talking against the Romans!
What did he say? Exactly! Where are the witnesses?
We, the entire High Council.
Tell me the exact words!
To the high priestís question if he was the Messiah and the son of God, he answered that he is.
Thatís indirect. What did he say directly?
He answered: You say it.
Ambiguous. It can mean: it is as you say, it can mean: you say so, not I.
Jewish pettifogging! Either way: he didnít answer with a clear no, and a half no is a half yes, and a half yes is an admission.†
Well, that can be twisted and turned. My question is: How does that injure
, a world power? And here this little Jew. A dog baying at the moon. Let him go, the fool. Rome
He talked that way because he was afraid. He thought differently. But he saw the Baptistís head in a kind of fog, his hair stood up and his forehead was sweating.
A little Jew, you say. Yes, yes. But he has already been able to win over a mob of followers. There is unrest among the people. Whether itís this Galilean or another: he could lead an uprising, for there are already disturbances. He must be made an example. If we let him go it will be an opening for the rebels. A different kind of example. Here Erez Yisrael, there
, there Macedonia , there Epirus , Aegyptus, Hispania, Mauritania Gallia, Illyrium, Raetia. Remove a beam from the building and it shakes. Colonial peoples need an iron fist. So: are you ís friend or foe? You know: To be Rome ís foe is dangerous, to be Rome ís friend is bearable. Rome
Herod promised to do his best in
ís interest. Rome
Bring him to me!
We learned all this from reports. Yochanan had friends everywhere who told him what otherwise remained secret. We also learned in this way how the hearing, or whatever you want to call it, went.
It was as though it never happened, because Yeshua said nothing.
He refused to give Herod a single word.
That confused Herod. The silence was so decided, so definite, so dignified, that it demanded respect. Herod, who had been mentally ill for years, though only sporadically, feared that silence. Apparently he saw before him the forever silent head of the Baptist.
Take this man away! he screamed. Do with him what you will. Out of my sight!
Was that a clear indication for
Pilatus? By no means. But Pilatusunderstood what he wanted from it: that Herod would not stab him in the back. But how did that help him? Herod didnít condemn Yeshua. He could use that. Heíd see how far he could get with it.
So he announced publicly: Herod sent back the accused without condemning him. He didnít reckon with the uproar this caused. He covered his ears and went back into the house. Such Jewish hubbub wasnít to his liking. Let them let off steam first.
It must have been then that his wife sent him the message: Free this man, he is innocent, I suffered all night from nightmares and waking thoughts because of him, withdraw from this case, it will cause you misfortune.
Now this. He was terribly confused. Procula was certainly right: the Jews would surely blame the Romans for the death of one of their own. If he allowed this one Jew to live, however, he would be reproached by
as a friend of the Jews and coward and who knows what else, at least that, maybe worse. There was much talk in Rome anyway about unrest in Rome Judeaand that the governor was incapable of stopping it. Whichever way: disaster. Cursed pack of Jews, cursed land, cursed Adonai, or whatever their god was called.
If he had this Jew who had so many followers executed an uprising could occur, if he didnít execute him, an uprising could also occur. These people were incomprehensible. Religious fanatics. Strange, very strange, and very dangerous because unforeseeable.
The people in the courtyard screamed:
He came out and in doing so something occurred to him: not the death penalty, not that, but public punishment, a whipping, that was common, the people can look, that would be enough to cool their boiling blood.
He was relived. That was a rescuing inspiration. He thought.
He said: The accused is found innocent of inciting to rebellion according to Roman law. The death penalty will not be applied. He must, however, be punishedÖ
He faltered. For what though?
The people needed not reply. They cried: If he wasnít a criminal deserving the death penalty we wouldnít have brought him to you!
Pilatusthreatened to clear the courtyard of the Praetorium if there wasnít quiet.
It became quiet.
Two torturers tied Yeshua to a post, then
Pilatusgave the signal for whipping. The whips whistled. They werenít like our Jewish ones, which were only plaited straps. The Roman ones were wound with lead balls and sharp objects.
I stood so close that I could see how Yeshuaís skin burst. I prayed: Adonai, let him faint, donít let him feel anything, whip me instead of him.
But Yeshua didnít faint. No sound escaped his lips. He kept his eyes closed.
The people counted the lashes. Forty was the prescribed amount according to Jewish law. At the thirtieth lash Yeshua sank to the floor, as far as the bounds allowed.
Pilatusgave the sign to stop. He feared that Yeshua was dead. I hoped so.
But the torturers pulled him up and untied him. He stood straight. His naked upper body was bloody and shredded.
I cried out, I cried out his name. Yochanan covered my mouth. Yeshua heard my cry, he opened his eyes. I donít know if he saw me.
Pilatussaid the words which afterwards everyone wanted to have heard and whose meaning puzzled mightily.
ďLook at the man!Ē
Perhaps this: Look at him, he is no Messiah-king. This is a poor beaten man.
Or this: This isnít a tough opposition fighter type, this is a lamb, not a tiger, so what are you afraid of?
Or: Look - with how much dignity he bears it all. Respect him.
Or: Look how he has been wounded. Isnít it enough for you?
For me it meant: Look, this is THE man, exemplar, the highest on this earth.
As Yeshua stood thus between
Pilatusand the people, a single voice cried out: He deserves the death penalty. On the cross with him!
An unknown voice. Others chimed in, crude screaming and shouting rose up.
The Prince of Darkness had his hand in the game here, and the people fell into his temptation without really knowing what they were doing.
Pilatusrealized that this hate was like a sickness, like a dogís rabies. He turned away disgusted. Not even the Roman mob acted in that way. Now Pilatushad to take the definitive decision. But again he tried to get around it.
How can I, a Roman, execute your king?
Our king? This one? We have no king except the Roman emperor.
I was ashamed of my own people. How they crawled before the Romans! How they denied wanting a king or even being able to have one.
We have only one ruler, the Roman emperor.
That was a public recognition of the occupier. It was political and spiritual capitulation. I had never cursed before and never after. But I did it then. Yochanan covered my mouth.
Pilatusrealized what was happening, but he made one last try to make this awkward, embarrassing, dangerous affair disappear.
He stepped forward, asked for quiet and said: It is my duty to free one political prisoner during the Passover feast. Therefore I wish to free this one.
The peopleís answer was one angry shout: Not him, set Bar Abba free!
Pilatusstood once again before a trap: to free Bar Abba would mean giving back to the underground one of their most capable fighters. What would say? To not let him go and instead free this in a sense harmless, on the other hand so unfoundedly hated Galilean, would mean to increase even more the hostility of these fanatical Jews. What to do? Rome
He looked at the beaten man. He was finished, he had learned his lesson. But the strong one, the violent one was still in prison. Free him and he would be back with the freedom fighters within an hour.
Pilatuswas afraid, that was obvious. He looked here and there, looking for a helpful sign, he even looked at Yeshua: couldnít this strange accused utter one word in his own defense, a prophetís word or something?
Yeshua returned his gaze. I saw it. It was a look which pursued
Pilatusand caused him to commit suicide a few years later, as was reported from , to where he was recalled because of his incapacity. Incapacity? What could he have done? Could another do it better? Rome
The one who did it better was called Florus, who came three years later. He did it so well that no stone remained standing in Yerushalayim and Godís people were taken as slaves to
. All for one, no: one for all, as Caiaphas had said in the High Council: Better that one dies than that the whole people bear the consequences of a rebellion. Rome
Now the exchange of prisoners took place: Bar Abba was brought from prison. The people cheered, they carried him on their shoulders, the courtyard emptied.
Pilatuswent back into the Praetorium.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††
Yeshua stood there for a moment. I called out his name. Now he saw me and Yochanan. But then he was taken away, rather pushed away with kicks, blows and curses.
We could no longer follow him because he was taken through a back gate, and at first we lost the track, until we saw a group of women: Veronica and all the rest, and Yeshuaís mother in the middle. Only women. Where was Shimon, where was Andrew, Philippos, Mathaea, where were they all? Disappeared like weasels, fled like mice into their holes.
Only Yochanan and I were still there. We two held fast. Little by little others came, many more, we became a long column, a silent demonstration. At an intersection we saw that Yeshua was carrying a heavy beam on his shoulders. Since when did condemned ones have to carry the wood for their own crosses to the place of execution?
Yeshua fell down. We took advantage of the moment and pushed towards him.
We saw that they had pressed a crown of thorns on his head. The blood ran down from the wounds and blinded him. Veronica was able to wipe off the blood and sweat with her kerchief. He saw us and he smiled. Why has no one who wrote about Yeshuaís crucifixion mentioned that smile? It was the smile of someone who had everything behind him, also that which was to come. It was a reflection from the kingdom which awaited him with open gates.
The torturers pulled him up and pushed him on. But he fell again. We women tried to help him, but they kicked us away. Then they called someone who happened to appear on the path. He was called Shimon and was from Kyrene it was said, a foreigner from the Greek colony in
North Africa. I didnít see that he was forced to carry the wood, as was reported later. No one could have forced a free man, a foreigner, to do that shameful act. Shimon did it of his own free will. He pitied that flayed Jew. He carried the beam as though it were as light as a reed. How I loved him for that deed! And he didnít even know who it was he was helping, whether he was a criminal or not. He saw a man suffering and he helped him.††††††††††††††††††
The path from the Praetorium to the place of execution wasnít long: along the almond pond then up to
When we arrived horsemen closed the area.
Two other condemned men, bound and closely guarded, were already there. When they saw Yeshua, one of them turned away and cursed, the other fell to his knees and lifted his hand in greeting, and Yeshua returned the greeting. Who was that man? Nameless, one of the many insurgents who had killed in the uprising. In Yeshua he saw the great leader, the Messiah-king, and it must have been a last consolation and highest honor to die alongside the great man, who was also great in defeat. He let himself be bound on the beam in heroic silence with his eyes on Yeshua. The other one continued to curse.
They raised one then the other with rope up to the horizontal beam on which they hung, almost at the same height as the already standing stake, resting in a notch and therewith forming a cross. The vertical stakes always stood on
Golgotha, only the horizontal beams were renewed at each execution.
In order that the condemned not die too soon from suffocation and their suffering last as long as possible, every stake had a clump of wood attached about a meter above the ground on which they placed the feet of the condemned.
Over the head of every hanging person they nailed a plaque with the name and kind of crime.
Yeshua was third in line. When they raised him up a cry erupted. What was written on the wooden plaque? In Latin: Jesus rex Judaeorum. And in Hebrew:
JESHUA MELECH HA-JEHUDIM†††
Down with that sign! He isnít our king! Who wrote that?
The governor ordered it.
It is a mockery of our people! He canít allow that. The sign must come down.
A messenger on horseback was sent to
Pilatus. He should tell him the sign should say: He said he is the king of the Jews.
The messenger returned: He remains adamant: What I have written, remains written.
They swore at that stubborn Roman, but no one dared remove the plaque, for it was guarded by a mounted captain who always came and went to maintain order and to see if the crucified ones still lived. If one of them took too long to die, they killed him like a rat. Not that, Adonai, at least spare him that, let him die quickly.
The area was closed off. Many people came. They werenít the usual curiosity seekers who couldnít let a crucifixion pass without watching. Nor were they those who rubbed their hands in glee at the torture and death of political activists: they disturb our tranquility. No, those who stood there were silent. Mute, horrified grief. So there were so many followers! And they dared to come to the execution. If Yeshua saw them?
Suddenly someone pushed through the crowd to us; I donít know who he was: Yehuda had hanged himself from a tree in the field of blood!
Yehuda, poor Yehuda.
Now I wept. I didnít weep for Yeshua, but for Yehuda. Three years with us. And no one loved Yeshua with such glowing passionate doggedness as he did. That will never be erased.
Later we heard that he received a lot of money from the High Council for his service. He took it. He could never resist money. For him it was the symbol of freedom. He didnít take it for himself, but for the freedom movement. They found the gold coins scattered below the tree from which he hanged himself.
The Roman captain noted the messengerís arrival. What is it?
Yochanan told him, and then he added: It is customary with us for the relatives of a condemned prisoner be near him at the moment of death.
The captain let through those of us whom Yochanan indicated: Yeshuaís mother, me, and himself. So we stood under the cross. We stood! It isnít true what was later told: that Yeshuaís mother fainted in Yochananís arms, and I was so crazed by grief that I lay under the cross, pulling my hair and ripping my clothes, swimming in tears. It could have been. But it wasnít. No one saw us as weak. I stood eye to eye with Yeshua, never leaving him for an instant. Now I saw how they had tortured him. They had ripped out whole shreds of skin and flesh and he couldnít open his left eye. The other was wide open, until the end.
Itís not true that Yeshua gave a kind of sermon from the cross. He tried to speak, but it was hard for him. One of those crucified next to him said: Rabbi, think of me when you enter your kingdom! And Yeshua tuned his face to him: I say to you, today you will be with me there. I heard it and it was shortly before his death.
I followed his dying from moment to moment. His breaths became shorter and hoarser and came in gasps, his ribs stuck out, his arm and leg muscles twitched, the blood vessels became thick, fingers and toes were cramped, his face was blue, his body sank downwards.
Someone came and brought a sponge dipped in myrrh wine, which deadens pain, at the tip of a hyssop branch. It was customary. The last service to the dying who, though criminals, were also Godís children. Yeshua didnít drink the myrrh wine; He pushed the sponge aside with a movement of his head. That made an impression and the mounted Roman said: What a man! The death throes didnít last long. Suddenly a loud scream, then he was dead.
Who screamed? Someone who is suffocating cannot scream so loudly. People said it thundered. A dark cloud covered the sun, a cold wind sprang up and swept over
Golgotha, the captainís horse reared and the captain, a Roman pagan, took his helmet off.
Deep silence. I still hear that scream today.
Then the captain put his helmet back on and gave the order to kill any of the prisoners who still lived. One of them who was crucified with him was already dead. The pierced him and, just in case, the other.
When they came to Yeshua they saw that he was dead. But one of them said: That was too quick, so to be sure he pierced his heart. Blood and lymph flowed out. The two others were taken down and carried away like slaughtered animals. Yeshuaís body was also taken down, but with great care: it was Josef of Arimathaia who (we donít know if by giving money or how) had obtained the right to bury the body.
Yochanan led Yeshuaís mother away. They all went home.
It was already evening so everything had to be done quickly. Josef had brought linen cloths and Nicodemus myrrh and aloe. But there was no time for an orderly embalming, only enough for us to bring Yeshuaís body to Josefís tomb, which was near to
Golgotha, hewn in rock, still new. We placed the body inside and the two men closed the tomb with a heavy round stone.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††
I will stay here and watch, I said.
What are you thinking of, come with us.
I sat before the tomb like a dog which guards its master and doesnít believe that he is dead. But they wouldnít leave me there. Soldiers came and chased me with harsh words. The tomb watchmen. Why tomb watchmen? Was the terror of Lazarusís return still in the authoritiesí bones? But Yeshua had woken another in
, he probably canít awaken himself from the dead. But perhaps he taught his disciples and they will now awaken him. Or: those words about the destruction of the temple and the three days until its reconstruction, was it perhaps not merely blasphemy? In the closed circle of Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection of the dead, those words were taken very seriously Nicodemus told us. One canít know for sure. In any case the tomb must be closely guarded. Bethany
So I left. Where to now? HE was nowhere now, not in
, not at Veronicaís. Nowhere. No home anymore. Bethany
But I had to go somewhere for the night. So I went to Veronicaís. All the women were together there, also Lazarus and Yochanan. There was nothing more to talk about.
Veronica said: Itís cold, and we must eat in spite of everything. She made a fire and hung the water kettle over it.
Someone said: But itís already the Shabbat. You may not do that.
Yochanan said: The ears of grain, the loaves. Make us hot wine, Veronica, and give us matzo.
We drank the wine, but we couldnít eat that night.
The hot wine made us sleepy and towards dawn we all lay in deep sleep.
It was still dark when someone knocked. Our signal, three knocks at certain intervals.
Shimon. But how he looked. Like someone who had been attacked by thieves, tortured. He fled immediately into the darkest corner and cowered there like an animal that seeks a hiding place. His hands were ice cold and his teeth chattered. I brought him wine, but he didnít take it. Eventually he stopped that terrible teeth
chattering and whispered: I am the worst of all men, a miserable worm, a coward, too cowardly to judge myself.
He lifted his head: Do you hear? The cock.
No cock had crowed.
Then I saw that he held a rope. He held it so fast that it took a great effort to wrest it from him.†††††††††††††††††††††††
He sobbed. Then he looked up again: The cock! Do you hear it?
Nonsense, I said. Thereís no cock. Sleep now.††††††††††††
I wasnít friendly to him, for really: he had acted cowardly, and not only in Hananyaís courtyard. Where was he when Yeshua had to carry the beam? Where was he when Yeshua was crucified?
I donít know why I said then: Itís true that you were cowardly, but you will atone for it, we will still need you.
At that moment he was completely useless.
I canít. Watch with himÖ Not even thatÖ I will never sleep again.
I poured wine in his mouth almost with force. Then he fell asleep.
I couldnít sleep though. If I could only at least go to the tomb. But the guards. Or to
Golgotha, follow the trail of blood. Anywhere. What to do with the whole long Shabbat?
I sat there and thought of nothing except: He is gone. He is dead. Gone and dead. Still so young. And beautiful. And now the purification begins. If only I could have poured my last flask of royal oil over him, over his face that was so bloody, one eye wounded and shut, I will never see that face again.
So immersed was I in grief that I found no consolation in thinking: He said three days, then weíd see each other again.
No, no, he didnít mean that literally. Three days, how long was that for him? Donít count the days, Miryam, count as I do in Aeons. And seeing each other again: where then, and how? No, that was no beam which I could hold on to.
One after the other they all woke up. Veronica brought us the prepared Shabbat meal. We ate a little from politeness. Shimon slept and couldnít be woken. Yeshuaís mother said: Yochanan, recite all the psalms you can remember.
He began from the beginning:
Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the godlessÖ
When he didnít know any more, another jumped in. Thus we prayed and prayed and the day knew no end and prayer was no consolation. A day of lead.
Why did nobody speak of his return? Of the future? Of tomorrowís day, or what would become of us? Time had been cut through with a knife. Could time still exist? Hadnít HE taken everything with him that seemed to belong to us? The Light was also gone. It was thundering and dark.
That day was worse than the previous one. There had been excitement, something happened. Bad and horrible, but something moved. Now though: we sat like shadows in the underworld and when it became completely dark outside we fell asleep again. What else could we do? Later thinking back it seemed to me: thatís how one lives in the kingdom of shadows where the sun never shines. Still later I thought: thatís how one lives without him.
I woke before dawn. I woke Shulamit, who lay next to me. Come, letís go to the tomb!
To do what?
I want to go to him.
To him? But heís dead. And in the tomb. And the stone covers the entrance. And the soldiers are there. Miryam, thatís a crazy idea.
How much money do you have?
She counted it.
That, together with mine, will be enough.
For what, what are you planning, tell me!
Bribe the soldiers. Are you coming or not?
It was still dark. The city still slept.
We came to the tomb.
There were no soldiers. But their helmets and spears lay strewn on the ground. It looked like they had fled quickly. But what soldier throws away his weapons? Who disarmed them?
We tried to roll away the stone. It was too heavy.
Then I saw a man among the trees in the olive grove in which the tomb was. Shulamit fled. But the man wasnít a soldier. At least he had no weapons. He came closer. I thought: if I give him money he will help me roll the stone away. When he came closer I took him to be a worker, a gardener. So early though?
I became unsure. Was I afraid? My heart beat faster. The man came still closer.
It was his voice.
Then I recognized him: Rabbi!
I fell at his feet and laughed and cried at the same time and was overcome with joy.
But when I tried to embrace his knees he stepped back. Not that, Miryam, no more and not yet. Stand and stay where you are. Listen: Iím giving you a task. Listen carefully!
Iím listening, Rabbi. Speak!
Go to the others. Tell them that you have seen me. Tell them that Iím going ahead to
Galilee. You will see me again, Miryam.
Then the place where he stood was empty. But I was burning inside. I took a few steps forward. Maybe he was hidden among the trees. But there was nothing there. And no trace on the damp grass. No sound of feet going away.
Shulamit called out: Who are you talking to? Who was that man? He called you by your name.
You heard it? Tell me that you heard it!
And did you see the man?
Yes. He stood there where you are standing now.
Shulamit: it was HIM!
Youíre crazy, Miryam. Come, letís get away from here.
But you saw and heard him yourself!
I saw a man and I heard a voice that said your name, thatís all, and you didnít see and hear anything else. Come, come, maybe it was a ghost. They say that during the first days ghosts leave the tomb and wander around. Come, I beg you.
Iím not crazy and the man was no ghost. Believe it or not: it was HIM, and he gave me the task of telling the others that† heís going to
Galileeand we should follow him there. Does a ghost say that?
I left her standing there and ran and ran and almost tripped over the threshold of Veronicaís house.
I saw him, he lives, I swear to you by the Almighty: I saw him and he lives.
Shimon sprang up and clapped his hands and turned in circles. He lives, he lives! Where is he?
No longer here, Shimon. He said we should go to
Galilee, that weíll meet him there.
Up, letís go! Shimon shouted.
But Shulamit said: Thatís what you think. But the tomb was closed! The stone was still there. How could he have come out?
Yochanan said: You are unlearned. It was his spirit-body that Miryam saw.
Shimon cried: Whatís that supposed to mean? Was it him or not? Spirit-body or not, what difference does it make? Weíre to go to
Galilee, so letís go!
Then Thomas butt in: But the soldiers! Did they simply let you go to the tomb?
There were no soldiers there any more. Their spears and helmets were there, but no soldiers. Tell them, Shulamit, was it so or not?
Yes, thatís true.
Shimon said: When Miryam says something like that we must believe her. She has never seen ghosts and always thought rationally about what we called miracles.
Yeshuaís mother, who had been sleeping in the upper chamber, came down.
I cried: Yeshua lives!
She said calmly: I know.
We thought she meant that she knew because she had heard us talking. But she told me later that she knew even before I came back from the tomb. She didnít say how she found out. She didnít go with us to the tomb.
For what? she said.
The rest of us went. What did we expect?
Everything was as before. What to do? Open the tomb? If someone saw us they would say: His disciples stole the body.
Maybe it was already stolen though, namely by the High Council so they could say: Why are you talking about a resurrection, we have the body and itís all a lie and a trick.
Shimon said: Would the rabbi agree to us opening the tomb? After all, he said that he wouldnít stay in the kingdom of death, and if Miryam has already seen him, why check again?
Yochanan said: That has nothing to do with it. We already believe. But we must know what itís all about. It could be completely different. Come, Shimon, letís roll the stone away!
They did so, and Yochanan walked bravely into the chamber.
When he came out again he held the linen cloth in which the body had been wrapped after Josef took it off the cross. It showed signs of dried blood.
Yochanan held the cloth high like a flag.
It is as I thought!
We went into the chamber: it was empty. Who took the body away? We wondered if it could have been Josef. It was possible. It was I who ran to him.
If I hadnít been in such a hurry I would have taken the burial cloth with me. When I returned Yochanan had already folded it and put it under his coat. I never saw it after that. Later I heard that it had been found and bore an imprint of his face.
Although it was so early, Josef was already up and he wasnít alone: Nicodemus was with him.
I saw the rabbi, he spoke to me! But the tomb is empty. Did you take the body away?
We? No, of course not.
Nicodemus said: You saw him, but not with those, your eyes, but with spirit-eyes, Miryam!
Do you mean that I dreamed it?
Oh no, you really saw him. Whoever is born of the flesh and sees with the bodyís eyes cannot see him. Who, however, is reborn from the spirit sees the spiritual with spirit-eyes.
But where is the body?
You still donít understand: it is no longer there. The physical matter has been completely transformed into spiritual matter. So stop looking for the body.
At that moment it occurred to me that I still had my third flask of royal oil. There was no longer any use for it. That seemed to be a foolish thought, but then I was aware that my oil now also belonged to another reality, and that from then on I would see everything with new eyes. HE had shown me the path to the other reality.
Josef said: What will you do now?
The rabbi told me that we should go to
Galilee, that he will be there.
Do it, go soon, but with care. I have heard that in the Kidron valley a nest of armed men has been organized. Apparently Bar Abba is there preparing a new uprising.
I ran back to the tomb. Josef didnít take the body and Nicodemus said we should stop looking for it.†††††
Yes, said Yochana, it must be so: the body no longer exists. Didnít we see on the Tabor how his body transforms itself into light?
Shimon said: You two keep at it, donít you? Always thinking. Why not take it as it is: HE lives, what more do you want? Come now, come, HE is waiting for us!
Yes, go, I said, Iíll come shortly, I must tell all the others, as the rabbi told me to do. Yochanan, wait for me at Veronicaís.
Where would I find them though? Shimon knew, for he had been with them when Yehuda ran away to hang himself.
They were well hidden. Although they must have recognized my signal, they didnít open right away. I knocked and knocked. Finally Thomasís voice: Whoís there? They were squatting in the back room. All together like frightened rabbits. I had to laugh.
You heroes! I said. There you sit and tremble and feel like orphans.
What are you talking about? You suddenly appear here as though you had a message for us.
Thatís right. HE lives!
I saw him.
In your dreams. Womenís twaddle.
Womenís twaddle? Who was with him under the cross? Who? You ran like mice into your holes. And now: Who dared to go to the tomb? Women. And you hide here and give up. But HE lives! Believe it or not. But I will tell you what he told me to do: Tell the others that you have seen me, and tell them: he is waiting for them in
Galilee. And now do what you want. As far as Iím concerned you can stay squatting here.
I ran to Veronicaís to prepare for the trip.
After a while someone knocked the signal. Andrew, Philippos, Thomas and all the others, out of breath: We saw him! He came through the closed door or through the wall, suddenly he was standing in the room and said: Donít be afraid. It is I.
Well! I said. Do you believe me now?
Yochanan, who had not yet seen him, said: What did he look like?
Like before, and yet not. It was him and it wasnít but it was. And Thomas said to him: You have stolen his looks and his voice, ghost! He smiled, it was his smile, we recognized that, and he said: Thomas, Thomas, you are one of those who only believes what he can touch. So come here and touch me. Put your finger in this wound. Thomas was afraid, repelled by touching, but he did it anyway.
Itís you, Rabbi!, he cried, and he fell to his knees.
Only later did he wonder about it, for he had touched the breast wound, which was on the naked body, through his garment and the garment was as if it wasnít there and the wound was crusted over but not hard and like something real, yet not, it was like something made of different matter and yet real. Thomas said: like solid light. That explained nothing, but one thing was certain: it was no ghost.
I thought of Nicodemusís words, and I said: One can see a spirit-body with spiritual eyes, but touch it?
But no one heard me, they were much too excited over what was happening. I wanted to leave. I was calmer again, so I could get ready for our trip to
Galilee. Yeshuaís mother stayed with Veronica in Yerushalayim.
We left the next morning. Each group chose a different route. We didnít stand out: pilgrims going home. I went with Shulamit, Thomas and Yochanan.
Naturally we spoke about what we had experienced and we tried to make the incomprehensible a bit more accessible. We compared our experiences of one who had returned from the kingdom of the dead, we doubted our observations, we weighed the possibility of illusion, but always came back to the same conclusion: We had witnessed him. In any case: he lives. Whether seen or heard was a question in itself. Did we see him IN US or OUTSIDE us? Had we transferred his image in us, outside us, so to speak? Or was he in fact a reality outside us? Could we see him as an outside-us, because he was an inside-us?
We talked that way and understood nothing, and Shulamit said: Stop racking your brains. Is it so important how it was, isnít it much more important and only important how we should continue now without him?
Yes, that is our question: Will we exist now without him?
After the first dayís journey we came to a village on the northern border of
Judea. Shulamit had relatives there. She asked for lodgings. She came back: They wonít take us in. Why not? No explanation. The doors are closed.
Was it already starting? Didnít the rabbi tell us in advance: They will hate, despise, persecute, kill you because of me.
All right, letís go on, letís go over the border.
There was a hostel in the next village. There were already returning pilgrims there. Of what did they speak? Of people they had met, of business, of the feast.
I asked a woman: Did anything special happen in the city?
What should have happened?
Wasnít someone crucified?
Three of them: Rebels. What do I know?
Then I asked a man outside the house. He was a Galilean.
Did you hear about that rabbi whom they crucified?
Yes, I did.
What did they accuse him of?
Inciting the people.
Is it true?
Yes and no. I heard him speak a few times. You could understand him so, or so.
How so or so?
Well, we understood him to be on the side of the landless and poor and against the rich and the whole fine society that can do what it wants, and extort taxes and take away land, and lock up the people who canít pay in debtors prison. The way he talked made us think that he wanted the uprising. But then: No, not that way, no violence. How then? Neither fish nor fowl. I prefer Yehuda any time.
Yes, you always know where you stand with him, he is clearly on the peopleís side.
Then you donít know?
He killed himself Ė by hanging.
What! But Why?
Because he thought as you do.
What do you mean?
He thought you can obtain peace, freedom and justice by fighting with weapons.
Thatís so. Itís the only way.
The Rabbi Yeshua said that itís not the way. Violence only begets more violence. And because the rabbi was against violence Yehuda wanted him killed. Briefly said. Do you understand?
I understand. And now theyíre both dead. So what happens now? Can anything more happen? Anyway, Iím fed up with it all. I belonged to the rebels for years. But now I want to rest. I donít want to be crucified. What do you care about all that? Itís not a womanís thing.
Later a group of pilgrims arrived. I recognized them from their accent as Galileans from the
. They sat aside and made a small fire in the courtyard. I greeted them. But they were taciturn. Kineret Sea
We donít know anything.
One said: Itís all over.
The feast, what else?
I understood. Should I have said: Nothing is over, our rabbi lives?
My heart burned, the words strove on my tongue to come out. But how could they have believed me. Theyíd have had to take me for a madwoman.
We left early in the morning. Such a beautiful morning, and spring, and Yeshuaís words in my ear: Go to
Galilee, I will be there.
But of course always the doubt: it canít be true that someone returns from the kingdom of the dead, it canít be true that you can see and touch him, that doesnít happen, we have fooled ourselves, over-stimulated as we were we imagined something for consolation.
But why then my happiness? Where does the feeling come from that HE is near to me?
It was near Sebaste that we met a troupe of riders. It was a whole cohort. Romans. They rode to south. They rode in a great hurry. Was something happening in Yerushalayim to cause them to be ordered there. Had unrest broken out? Had Bar Abba been able to bring about the uprising? If now the great uprising too place? If Yeshuaís death had been the signal? If the uprising in Yerushalayim meant an uprising in all Yisrael?
Yochanan, do you remember Yeshuaís words: I throw fire on the earth and wish nothing more ardently than that it burn.
But not that way. Not as an uprising, not as violence, not as a battle between peoples!
Yes, but you told me the story about that Prometheus who stole fire from the gods in order to give it to men, and that he was cruelly punished for it.
Do you think that? How difficult it is for you and for us all to escape from the old images: Zeus, Jupiter, Adonai: violent rulers, strict judges, hard fathers. Miryam, Yeshua didnít need to steal the fire from a jealous god: he stole it from himself, HE is the fire, and that fire is spirit, and whoever lets it burn in him is godlike.
That evening we were already near the border of
Galilee. We looked for an inn there. Then we met Shimon and Andrew. They acted half crazed. Are you drunk? What are you saying? We donít understand a word. Shimon, you tell us.
We saw the rabbi! And he ate supper with us, here, an hour ago! Thereís the cup he drank out of, itís still half full, and there, that half a piece of bread! We met him underway.
From the beginning. Underway. Where, how?
We were going along and suddenly, we didnít hear any footsteps, someone was alongside us who asks: You are sad, friends, why? We say: Yes, why: because something happened in Yerushalayim that affects us. What? He says. The Rabbi Yeshua, who they hanged. So? He asks. And what else? What else: heís dead, do you understand? He looks at us so curiously: Is he really dead? I say: Yes and no. He says: Whatís that supposed to mean, is he dead or not? Yes, I say, thatís just what we canít handle. He says: Youíll never be able to handle it, friend. I say: He died, thatís for sure, but then the tomb was empty and some women claim to have seen him, alive! But thatís womenís talk due to grief.
Shimon! I said.
He felt ashamed.
I didnít want to tell the stranger everything at once.
All right. Go on.
Yes, well, meanwhile it was evening and I say: Weíre going to the inn there. Come along, friend. It was very strange. I didnít want to let that stranger go away for anything in the world. He stayed, and we ordered food and drink. He says: Do you have money, I have none. Yes, yes, we do. Then he smiles and the smile seems familiar to us, but we still donít think anything more. And then he asks: Who was the man they crucified, and why? Why, thatís a long story, and who he really was, we donít know that. Donít be angry, but we donít want to talk about it, it pains us. He smiles again and I kick Andrew and indicate the face of the guy to him, and we stare at it, and the man keeps smiling and weíre warm, but do you think our eyes were opened? No. The food is brought. Sea fish and bread, and wine, and the stranger eats and drinks, why not, why shouldnít a man eat and drink. But then, now itís coming: then he takes the bread and breaks it in three pieces, and dips a piece in the wine and hands it to me, and then one to Andrew. Then it dawns on us, it dawns on us like a bolt of lightning, and at the same moment he disappears. Simply gone. The serving girl said: Whereís the third one gone, I didnít see him leave and I was always here. Yes, look, thereís his cup, half full, and his piece of bread, letís share it! Letís do as he did.
It was Shimon who first celebrated the supper with us, and we were all in tears.
The next day we went on together, and I kept looking back to see if someone was following. Wasnít his promise to be seen again also meant for me? Or couldnít I expect it after the encounter at the tomb?†
There was the sea, blue and still, and the meadows were still spring green, and the fishing boats were on the water and Yerushalayim was far away, a foul, incomprehensible dream, and soon the rabbi would come, step into the boat and preach.
Nothing. Only the great stillness.
Shimon took me with him to his home. His wife and mother-in-law greeted him with joy and scolding: Now youíve had your experience, we heard about it, now you know how good it is to be home, now youíll stay.
Poor people. He didnít even stay three weeks with them, and he never returned.
I went to the sea. The fish jumped, no breeze moved the water, the weather became gloomy. My temptation was to think: the Sun God has gone, how can one live without him? Only those who have lived with him know what it is to live without him.
Suddenly a breath of wind brushed me, but no leaf moved and the mirror of the sea stayed smooth
I reached into the air, but there was nothing. But something had passed by. I wondered, until one of ours came running: Come, come, there rabbi is here!
Why didnít I run after him right away? Didnít I believe him?
I didnít run because I believed him. Again a spirit-like encounter, again a farewell. No.
I followed the messenger slowly.
You came too late, Miryam.
Heís gone. He stood there; he sat here at the fire. We were roasting fish and he was suddenly here and said: Give me something to eat. Just like that. We gave him a fish. He ate it. Look, there is the fish head, there are the bones. But no footprints in the sand.
A cat came and took the fish head.
You, I said, donít know whose fish you are eating.
I was close to ripping the head from its mouth.
Ants fell on the bones and picked them clean.
Since then I have never eaten fish again.
We stayed three weeks in
Galileeand it seemed like it was three years earlier: the fishermen were out, they threw out their nets and brought them in the next morning, not rich hauls, just the usual. The women salted the fish or hung them on lines to dry in the air, the children helped pack them in baskets. Talk, more talk, laughter, peace, or sometimes an argument. Normal life. How long? Continuously until our natural death? Why not? The three years with the rabbi had strained us to the utmost. Three years counted as though they were thirty. For the first time in my life I thought: to have a family, children, a house, and quiet, and to know nothing of that rabbi and his extreme expectations. What for? Where did it lead?
The great temptation. It overcame the others too. We hid our thoughts, but we all† knew what we were thinking.
From day to day I became more restless.
Yochanan, Shimon, do we want to stay stuck here? What about our mission?
What do you want to do?
I want to go to Yerushalayim.
Shimon said: Why to Yerushalayim? Thatís just the place where we canít go now. Itís full of unrest.
Exactly: the hour for the new is where there is unrest.
Theyíll arrest us as followers of the crucified one, as enemies of
, just think! We have no more friends there. Rome
How do you know that? Veronica is there, and the three in Bethany, and Josef and Nicodemus Ė the mustard seed, Shimon!
Yes, of course.
If you wonít go Iíll go alone. At the tomb the rabbi told me: Go and tell all that you have seen me and that I live. Thatís what he said and thatís what Iíll do.
Oh, Miryam, youíre just like the rabbi: obstinate and demanding the impossible. Like that time when we were fishing and no fish came, and he said: Throw your nets out. I say: It makes no sense. He says: Throw out your nets. I did it. And the fish came.
Well! And you, Yochanan.
Iíll go with you. Light is stronger than darkness.
So we went wandering again, without the rabbi and without Yehuda.
I said: Why are we so lame and wingless, friends? Why is it? We act like a herd of sheep whose shepherd has died and donít know where to go. Our shepherd lives!
Yes, of course, but what will become of us no one knows. When he was with us he said: Weíre going here or there, weíll do this or that, it is so or so, and everything was clear. But now.
Now, I said, we must show what we learned with him. Now we must decide for ourselves.
I acted bravely in order to give the others courage, but my courage was difficult, every gust of wind made it unsure, and there were many hard gusts during that journey: a foreman whipped a farm worker; a farmhouse burned down; a persecuted, dispossessed family who led two donkeys carrying all their possessions, mounted police, and spies who approached us: Who are you, where are you going, may we accompany you for a while? And two crosses on a hill on which people were being crucified, of whom one still lived: political, for common criminals werenít usually crucified, they were stoned. Guards kept me from going closer. Roman blood and fire.
Suddenly I screamed, threw myself on the ground and banged my head on the earth. The others were shocked. They thought I had fallen to a demon. However, I was very clear. Completely clear. I was at that moment my people: Yisrael, who screamed to heaven. The scream that was meant to reach the savior and bring him by force.
But where was he? Yeshua, he hadnít saved Yisrael. The dream is dreamed out. Shouldnít one join Bar Abba after all?
I stood up and said: Itís all right, it was just that sight, you understand. Letís go on.
Yochanan said: Miryam, Miryam, you are susceptible to temptations from the kingdom of darkness.
And you, friend, are a master at ignoring the suffering of our people. You keep your mind as clean as your hands. Why didnít you just disappear with your master into the light?
Shimon said: Listening to you both makes one feel confused. You were his best pupils.
Thatís why! His teaching was simple, or at least one can understand it as simple, but applying it to life, Shimon! If the rabbi teaches: Love your enemies, and you see that over there on the hill! And you yourself, friend, cut a soldierís ear off, and if your blow had been to his throat, what then?
Then I would be a murderer, said Shimon innocently.
But I only wanted to protect the rabbi.
And those who hang there only wanted to protect Yisraelís freedom and dignity. Whatís the difference?
Shimon had no answer. Since he had denied the rabbi at the cockís crowing he had been a broken man. In his eyes the request for forgiveness was uppermost. He could only grant forgiveness to himself though. He never did it. And if it was true that the rabbi wanted him to be the leader of the first community, then it for because of this humility.
So we arrived in Yerushalayim. Again a feast was being prepared, a harvest thanksgiving feast, to be celebrated fifty days after Passover. We found quarters in
. We heard there that our situation wasnít so bad after all. There was a loyal group, over a hundred. They met once here, once there and kept together and celebrated the remembrance meal and taught children. But a shepherd was missing. The orphans lacked a father, a mother. Bethany
We decided to meet secretly on the feast day and in the house where the departure feast was celebrated. Martha and Veronica acted as messengers.
Our men didnít yet dare to go into the city. When they left the house it was only to the nearby olive groves.
And it was here where some of them said they saw the rabbi again, the last time, he had transformed himself to pure light before their eyes, and then ďascendedĒ, it seemed to them. Could be, I thought. But ďascendedĒ to where? For him there is no direction and no place, none except in us. Not ascended, but entered into, penetrated into us. That yes, not otherwise. Where does THE Light go, when itís extinguished? And where should the light go if itís inextinguishable?
I, though, was a hearth in which the last coals were dying out. I accepted the story about the ascension half-heartedly, with a mixture of mistrust: what if a demon which took Yeshuaís form duped us. But why? So that we could be fooled into only believing what we see, instead of having pure faith in the spiritual teaching? Worse: so we cannot differentiate illusion from reality. Still worse: so that we should consider everything we experienced with Yeshua as illusory. Or also so that we should think that Yeshua was never a real man, but only a spiritual manifestation.
Stupid talk, Shimon said. Didnít you see him suffer and die, really? Do you think that was delusion? It was a manís death, a terrible one, and no trick. What kind of people are you, anyway?
Shimon, I donít mean that.
Perhaps spirit and matter arenít really different. And maybe someone who has been initiated can appear alternately in a spiritual form and an earthly body. Maybe earthly matter can appear finer, then denser. Perhaps it is all the same, namely light, and it returns to the light from which it came.
Oh, Yochanan, you arch-intellectual, Shimon said, youíll think yourself to death. The Greeks, those pagans, have put a bunch of fleas in your ear. Isnít it enough for you that he lived and we lived with him, and he lives on?
Happy Shimon, Yochanan said. But thinking is a wonderful thing, and the Rabbi did not forbid it, on the contrary, he always gave us new puzzles to solve in the parables and expected us to solve them.
To each his own, Shimon said. Iím no scholar, Iím a fisherman. I canít participate in such complicated discussions.
He said that shortly before his first public appearance, when his tongue was loosened and he gave that wonderful speech which caused such a great change and brought so many new friends, and also powerful enemies, and the most powerful was the person who watched as young Stephanos was stoned to death: Shaulus, who later called himself Paulus.††
Itís hard for me to talk about him.
He was a Jew, but whether by birth or free decision also a Roman citizen, and a Roman officer and occupier of Yisrael, proud of his Roman citizenship, boasting of it even when he had long been a follower of Yeshua, especially when he was arrested and condemned to death and couldnít be crucified like other Jews, like Shimon-Petrus, for example. He was spared crucifixion, notwithstanding Yeshuaís crucifixion, an apostle of whom he called himself. So he was beheaded, in
A righteous one and, like all the righteous, hard against all lawbreakers. So he stood there and watched the stoning.
And it wasnít only that victim. The persecution began and Shaulus became the most relentless persecutor. No house was left unsearched, no trace not followed. Many fled the country, but also many didnít reach the border and were murdered underway. Many dead there are in Shaulusís account!
We women hid at first in Bethany, but then we heard that Shaulus was looking especially for us, because he said that the women were the greatest danger, being the most zealous followers of that Yeshua, who gave them rank and rights which are not applicable to them by nature and Godís will, and they guard the memory of that rabbi as mothers their children and defend their faith with hook or crook, above all that Miryam of Magdala who claims to have seen the resurrected one first and tells the story everywhere. If one wants to destroy the new, then one must destroy this woman.
One night Nicodemus and Josef brought us to the sea, bought us an old sailboat, hired two Phoenician sailors and left us to our fate, which seemed better to us than death at the hands of Shaulus.
Yeshuaís mother, Miryam, wasnít with us. Yochanan took her with him to
, where she died. What happened to the others, Andrew, Shimon, Philippos and the rest, I didnít know until much later. It was possible that they were all dead. It was possible that they had saved themselves by fleeing to Ephesus or to Dekopolis and that they were preaching there. It was possible that they had returned to the old under pressure from the persecution, not from conviction. Syria
But what actually happened in our old homeland, which we never saw again, we hadnít considered possible: our people didnít change, it was Shaulus who converted to the new. A strange story, which he told everywhere and which wasnít unbelievable; although one must keep in mind that he was a poet and had a fiery power of imagination. What he told was this: he was following one of the escapees along the road to
when he was hit by lightening, knocked off his horse and lay there for three days blind and unconscious, and then arose as completely converted. Damascus
He simply flipped the coin, changed his name to Paulus and, again on his high horse, a self-appointed apostle without consulting Shimon and Andrew, claiming that Yeshua appeared to him in the clouds, Yeshua the resurrected, and now he believed in the resurrection, and he believed as fanatically in it as he had previously denied it, and founded his teaching exclusively on the following: If he wasnít resurrected, then my preaching is unfounded and our faith is unfounded, and we are not redeemed, but are still slaves of sin.
Messengers who traveled back and forth on the coast reported that to me. What should I say about it, I, the first witness to the resurrection, charged by Yeshua himself to announce it! Not a word about that. Not a word about us, the women who supported the young movement with our money, who first saw the resurrected one, who accompanied him to the crucifixion despite the danger and stood under the cross and held out till the end. Nothing about that. Later in his letters there is mention of women when they donate money and obediently carry out minor tasks. Didnít he know about us? Oh yes, he did. But he wanted to forget it, he wanted to sacrifice us to forgetfulness. He did the same with our men. How he treated them, how he pushed Shimon and Andrew aside, those uneducated Jews! It was as though before Shaulus nothing happened, as though he got everything rolling.
I received some copies of his letters to read, which he circulated and which also went to Lazarus, who was now bishop of our area. What language! That of a great poet, surely. How he spoke about love! Why did it leave me cold? Did he even know love? How self-righteous he was. I - I Ė I. In one moment: I am the least of all the apostles, and then: I work more than anyone, I suffer more than anyone. It was said that he had a sickness, epilepsy probably. I know nothing certain about that. And it wouldnít have disturbed me if he had been ill. What did disturb me, rather what greatly disturbed me is something else: that he, like the Emperor Augustus, wanted to found a world empire with Yeshua as emperor, a
, in which the enemies, those who are not baptized and who donít stand under the Law, are all lost (thatís what he wrote). World domination by what was beginning to be called Christianity, thatís what he wanted. And he, a Roman citizen secretly still enthusiastic about the greatness of Rome, did everything possible to erect that empire, and it happened according to his will, if not during his lifetime: Christianity became the Roman state religion, and the Roman emperor Constantine carried the inscription on his helmet that he had seen in a dream alongside a cross of light: hoc vinci, that is, in the sign of the cross, and he had that and the inscription put on his soldiersí battle shields and on the flag that was carried before him in war. By the sign of the cross you will be victorious over all who do not profess allegiance to kingdomof God and to Christianity. By the sign of the cross on which Yeshua died by order of the Romans, not only according to the wish of the Jews. Oh, and by this sign they now kill. Rome
Thatís how our cause continued. You died for that, Rabbi. You wanted to bring peace. You have brought war. You, who were without violence. They murder in your name. You wanted to bring light to the earth. The shadows of the underworld have hung themselves on you like black grapes, so that you donít achieve the resurrection. King of the unredeemed, you.
I screamed. I banged my head against the rocks and wished for death. Wait still for what? How much time had elapsed since Yeshuaís death? No longer to count by years. And how much time will elapse before he returns as he promised?
Did I still believe in the promised kingdom of peace, or did I hold fast to that belief only because without it I would fall into the abyss? The wheel turned and turned and brought nothing new and plunged deeper into darkness and no one was there to stop the turning and sinking.
Then I heard a voice: Miryam!
I pushed myself back into the caveís darkness. I knew the voice. I didnít want to hear it.
The cave became light, but there was no one there except me. Delusion, wish-dream, fear-dream.
For the third time. Now finally I opened my mouth: Rabbi! And I began to tremble.
Would you leave me, my companion? You want to jump off the wheel into blissful non-suffering while I struggle to lift the weight of the earthís matter. Do you leave me alone? Will you leave the place beneath the cross on which I hang? Why do you worry about the question: Where is the kingdom of peace? I AM the kingdom of peace!
That may be, I said. But we donít see any of it. Where is the promised peace?
Are you still thinking in centuries? Think in millennia. The work for freedom has just begun. The ascension of humanity takes very long, Miryam!
Humanity has been trying for so long, Rabbi!
Long? Humanity is young on the earth.
Young? We Jews are an old people, extremely old.
There are older ones. And all are children. They test life and the ascent.
I see descent, Rabbi.
What you see as descent is transition.
You are patient, Rabbi.
My love is patient. I want to pull humanity high, up to the sphere of the Highest. I want to raise it with the power of my love. It must get there, for thatís where it originated. Miryam, you will accomplish the ascent, humanity will accomplish it, and you will stay until it is accomplished and the kingdom of peace is founded.
Then the voice was silent and the light went out. It went out slowly, in order not to frighten me with sudden darkness. That was the last time it was granted me to see the light and not merely the shadows on the caveís walls.
My lover gave me little consolation and held me strictly to my word: I need no miracles and no faces to believe in you, Rabbi!
The trial of darkness, the night way. The blindness.
But when the dark is blackest and the way is lost, then he is near, the god; but like the wandering Odysseus he takes the form of a man, for only as a man can the god help men.
So I remain, and I am nothing else but the waiting for the kingdom of peace.††
Translation: Frank Thomas Smith
About the author
Luise Rinser was born in
in 1911. In 1944 she was imprisoned by the Nazis for ďhigh treasonĒ. She was liberated by the Americans in 1945. The liberators were quicker than the hangman. She wrote over thirty books Ė novels, essays and diaries. She lived the last three years of her life near Germany Ė and died in March 2002. Upon her death Johannes Rau, President of Germany, acclaimed her as one of the great literary voices of post-war Rome . She didnít allow herself to be influenced by temporary fashions and was always a courageous defender of freedom, democracy and human cooperation. ďShe will be missed by many, because in her books and essays she always sought the fundamental questions of lifeĒ.††† Germany
ďMiryamĒ is now available free of charge from the Southern Cross Review Ebook Library.