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 Yeshua’s 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 realm 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 wasn’t long: along the almond pond then up to Golgotha.
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 isn’t our king! Who wrote that?
The governor ordered it.
It is a mockery of our people! He can’t 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 weren’t the usual curiosity seekers who couldn’t 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 don’t know who he was: Yehuda had hanged himself from a tree in the field of blood!
Yehuda, poor Yehuda.
Now I wept. I didn’t 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 didn’t 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 messenger’s 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: Yeshua’s mother, me, and himself. So we stood under the cross. We stood! It isn’t true what was later told: that Yeshua’s mother fainted in Yochanan’s 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 wasn’t. 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 couldn’t open his left eye. The other was wide open, until the end.
It’s 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 realm! And Yeshua turned 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 God’s children. Yeshua didn’t 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 didn’t 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 captain’s 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. They 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. Yeshua’s body was also taken down, but with great care: it was Josef of Arimathaia who (we don’t know if by giving money or how) had obtained the right to bury the body.
Yochanan led Yeshua’s 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 Yeshua’s body to Josef’s 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 doesn’t believe that he is dead. But they wouldn’t leave me there. Soldiers came and chased me with harsh words. The tomb watchmen. Why tomb watchmen? Was the terror of Lazarus’s return still in the authorities’ bones? But Yeshua had woken another in Bethany, he probably can’t 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 can’t know for sure. In any case the tomb must be closely guarded.
So I left. Where to now? HE was nowhere now, not in Bethany, not at Veronica’s. Nowhere. No home anymore.
But I had to go somewhere for the night. So I went to Veronica’s. All the women were together there, also Lazarus and Yochanan. There was nothing more to talk about.
Veronica said: It’s cold, and we must eat in spite of everything. She made a fire and hung the water kettle over it.
Someone said: But it’s 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t 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. There’s no cock. Sleep now.
I wasn’t friendly to him, for really: he had acted cowardly, and not only in Hananya’s courtyard. Where was he when Yeshua had to carry the beam? Where was he when Yeshua was crucified?
I don’t know why I said then: It’s true that you were cowardly, but you will atone for it, we will still need you.
At that moment he was completely useless.
I can’t. Watch with him… Not even that… I will never sleep again.
I poured wine in his mouth almost with force. Then he fell asleep.
I couldn’t 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 we’d see each other again.
No, no, he didn’t mean that literally. Three days, how long was that for him? Don’t 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 couldn’t be woken. Yeshua’s 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 godless…
When he didn’t 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 tomorrow’s day, or what would become of us? Time had been cut through with a knife. Could time still exist? Hadn’t 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: that’s how one lives in the realm of shadows where the sun never shines. Still later I thought: that’s how one lives without him.
I woke before dawn. I woke Shulamit, who lay next to me. Come, let’s go to the tomb!
To do what?
I want to go to him.
To him? But he’s dead. And in the tomb. And the stone covers the entrance. And the soldiers are there. Miryam, that’s 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 wasn’t 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: I’m giving you a task. Listen carefully!
I’m listening, Rabbi. Speak!
Go to the others. Tell them that you have seen me. Tell them that I’m 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!
You’re crazy, Miryam. Come, let’s get away from here.
But you saw and heard him yourself!
I saw a man and I heard a voice that said your name, that’s all, and you didn’t 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.
I’m 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 he’s going to Galilee and 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 Veronica’s 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 we’ll meet him there.
Up, let’s go! Shimon shouted.
But Shulamit said: That’s 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: What’s that supposed to mean? Was it him or not? Spirit-body or not, what difference does it make? We’re to go to Galilee, so let’s 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, that’s 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.
Yeshua’s 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 didn’t say how she found out. She didn’t 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 it’s all a lie and a trick.
Shimon said: Would the rabbi agree to us opening the tomb? After all, he said that he wouldn’t stay in the realm 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 it’s all about. It could be completely different. Come, Shimon, let’s 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 hadn’t 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 wasn’t 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 body’s eyes cannot see him. Who, however, is reborn from the spirit sees the spiritual with spirit-eyes.
But where is the body?
You still don’t 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 didn’t take the body and Nicodemus said we should stop looking for it.
Yes, said Yochana, it must be so: the body no longer exists. Didn’t we see on the Tabor how his body transforms itself into light?
Shimon said: You two keep at it, don’t 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, I’ll come shortly, I must tell all the others, as the rabbi told me to do. Yochanan, wait for me at Veronica’s.
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 didn’t open right away. I knocked and knocked. Finally Thomas’s voice: Who’s 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.
That’s right. HE lives!
I saw him.
In your dreams. Women’s twaddle.
Women’s 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 I’m concerned you can stay squatting here.
I ran to Veronica’s 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: Don’t 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 wasn’t 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.
It’s 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 wasn’t 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 Nicodemus’s 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. Yeshua’s mother stayed with Veronica in Yerushalayim.
We left the next morning. Each group chose a different route. We didn’t 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 realm 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, isn’t 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 day’s journey we came to a village on the northern border of Judea. Shulamit had relatives there. She asked for lodgings. She came back: They won’t take us in. Why not? No explanation. The doors are closed.
Was it already starting? Didn’t the rabbi tell us in advance: They will hate, despise, persecute, kill you because of me.
All right, let’s go on, let’s 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?
Wasn’t 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 can’t 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 people’s side.
Then you don’t know?
He killed himself – 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.
That’s so. It’s the only way.
The Rabbi Yeshua said that it’s 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 they’re both dead. So what happens now? Can anything more happen? Anyway, I’m fed up with it all. I belonged to the rebels for years. But now I want to rest. I don’t want to be crucified. What do you care about all that? It’s not a woman’s thing.
Later a group of pilgrims arrived. I recognized them from their accent as Galileans from the Kineret Sea. They sat aside and made a small fire in the courtyard. I greeted them. But they were taciturn.
We don’t know anything.
One said: It’s 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. They’d have had to take me for a madwoman.
Translated fron the German by Frank Thomas Smith
Continued in the next issue of SCR.