I followed my father’s footsteps in the sandy soil as we climbed the hill, another hill of the many we had crossed in our long journey from Bethany. My father had slung over his back his bag of tools and a bundle of our possessions. I carried another bundle on my back and the donkey I led carried as his burden clay water jugs, a stack of firewood and other supplies. Behind me walked my mother who carried a smaller bundle of clothing balanced with poise on her head, a white cloth spread below it, blocking the hot sun’s rays from her face, neck and shoulders. The donkey was tired from the long journey. The donkey was plodding his hoofs in a shuffle. I laid my hand on the donkey’s head and spoke quiet words of encouragement to the beast. He snuffled at me.
At the top of the hill my father stopped, looked ahead then turned to look at us coming up behind him. I squinted my eyes against the bright sun and watched a hawk soaring high in sky, its keen eyes searching for prey. I wish I had the bird’s freedom of flight to make the traveling easier. A few more steps and I stood next to my father at the top of the hill. My mother walked up and stood beside us. My father pointed. He told us, “Nazareth.”
My eyes followed his pointing hand and I saw in the shimmering distance a village perched on a plateau below the height of the hill where we stood. There were the people’s homes, with patches of green that would be their gardens. We would go down this rocky hill then cross a dry ravine that would run fast with water in the rainy season, then climb one more hill to our destination. The rough terrain was especially difficult for my mother. Looking at this hill to descend and the next to climb, I knew it would be late in the day before we arrived at Nazareth.
My mother said, “Bless us, ADONAI, and let us find peace and work and lodging in Nazareth.” She bowed her head and placed her fingertips to her forehead.
Looking down I saw at the bottom of the hill a group of four boys. These were the first people we had seen since leaving the River Jordan to cross west through the Jezreel Valley at the south base of the Tabor Mount. My father started down the hill and we followed him. At the bottom of the hill I could now see that three of the boys were provoking the other. The fourth boy was younger than the others. He looked to be the same age of myself, which was thirteen years. The fourth boy had a hunting sling in his hand that was being pulled away from him by the oldest and biggest of the other three.
The older boy pushed the younger boy, and said to him, “You can’t hunt. Give me the sling. Run home to stada.” Then the boy being insulted threw a hard punch to the others face, yelling, “Shut your mouth or I will kill you.” The other two boys jumped on the young boy and now all three were attacking him.
No matter how hard the young boy fought, he did not have a chance against three. He was being punched and pulled from three directions and now the young boy was on the ground being kicked by all three of the attackers. We were still a stone’s throw distance from the group of boys. My father had stopped walking and we came beside him. I said, “It is not fair. There are three of them to his one.”
My father replied, “It is not our concern.”
“But father, you are always telling me that we should help those in need. I want to help him.”
“We do not know the rights and wrongs of this affair. Perhaps he deserves the beating.”
“Then let them beat him one at a time, not all at once.” I turned to my mother. “Mother should we let three beat one?”
My mother answered my question with a question, “What would you do?”
“I will fight one so he only has two to fight.”
My mother looked at my father and said in a weary voice, “He is the son of his father.”
My father laughed, nodded his head towards the fight, and said to me, “Go then.”
I stepped to the donkey and selected a hard stick of firewood. The stick was the length of me to my chin, a slender but good stout weapon. Pulling it from the stack I turned and ran to the fight.
Two of the boys were holding the younger boy down while the older of them kicked the younger boy. Running up from behind them, they being unaware of my approach, I swung the stick in a vicious arc, hitting the kicking one across his shoulders and the back of his head. I knocked that boy down, he fell hard to the ground. The other two boys looked up in shock. That gave the boy being held down a chance to jerk an arm free and he grabbed a fist sized rock from the ground next to him. He smashed the rock into the face of one of the attackers, that boy yelling in pain and falling back.
Now there was only one attacker left and the young boy tore into him with a vengeance, pummeling his face with his hard fists. In moments the fight was over. The three attackers were lying on the ground moaning. The young boy who was being attacked stood and turned to look at me. I was leaning on my stick of firewood, the other boy was breathing hard, spitting out blood.
The boy who had been outnumbered and being beaten raised his arm. He showed me his open right hand in the sign of peaceful greeting, and said to me, “Many thanks for your help. My name is Yeshua. I am called Yeshua the Nazarene.”
I raised my hand and replied, “I am Judas. The son of Simon Iscariot.”
My name is Judas Iscariot. I am going to tell you what happened, what really happened, to me, and to my friend, Yeshua.
We entered the village of Nazareth. I was leading the donkey, walking beside Yeshua, my mother and father alongside us. I saw this was a village of about a half a hundred homes most with garden patches and many with mangers for the livestock. In the center of the village there was a well, fed by a spring at the base of a rocky outcrop. The well’s sides were stacked stones covered in a troweled plaster that held the water from draining off into the ground around it. We stopped at the well and used a stoneware jug to draw water. We gratefully drank the cool fresh water. I poured water into a chiseled notch on a stone for the donkey.
Looking about I saw the houses of the inhabitants were made of stacked stone and sundried clay bricks. The roofs were covered with reed mats. These were sticks of wood branches weaved together and covered with a rough coat of plaster to block the rain.
Yeshua took us to his home. It was a simple home like the others in the village, but very clean. I could see the work of a craftsman in its design and construction. We entered through a gate to the courtyard of the home and I saw an old man working on a piece of wood with a mallet and chisel under an overhang to block the sun. On the other side of the courtyard was the family’s food preparation area and two women, one young and the other older, were cooking something in a large pot hanging from a chain over the fire. Another young woman was grinding grains of wheat between two round flat rocks. She was preparing the dough for bread, mixing it with salt, yeast and water, adding dried grapes for sweetening, then shaping the dough into thin round loaves to be cooked in a dome of stacked stones, a fire burning hotly within it. Another young woman was tending the cooking loaves.
The old man turned at the noise of us entering. He called out, “Mary, we have visitors.” From inside the house another young woman came out with some weaving cloth in her hands.
Yeshua said to them, “Yosef, Mother, this is my friend, Judas, and his mother and father.” My father stepped forward and said to the old man, “I am Simon, the son of Jacob Iscariot of Kerioth,” and pointing to us, said “This is my wife Cyborea and our son, Judas.”
The old man greeted us, “Welcome to our home. I am Yosef, the son of Jacob Heli. This is my wife, Mary Salome and her mother Anne. These are
my daughters Mary Jacob, Salome, and Joanna, and this is my stepson, Yeshua.”
The older woman turned, looked at my father, and said in a voice of joy, “My brother!” And she and my father stepped quickly to each other to embrace. “My sister! I am so happy to see you!”
Of all the houses in Nazareth we had come to the one where my father would find his sister. My mother touched her forehead and exclaimed, “This is a sign of good tidings from ADONAI.”
Yosef looked at Yeshua’s bruised face and said to him, “I see you have already become acquainted with Yeshua. Fighting again, eh? What are you fighting about this time?”
One of the young women who had been tending the cooking, Mary Salome, walked over and took Yeshua’s face in her hands, asking him, “Are you alright my son?”
Yosef asked Yeshua again, “What are you fighting about?”
Yeshua, who seemed embarrassed by his mother’s maternal attentions, pulled his face away and replied, “Nothing. It was nothing.”
Yosef reached out and took Yeshua’s hands, turned them over, saw his skinned bloody knuckles, and asked, “Can you work tomorrow?”
Yeshua replies, “Yes. I tell you it was nothing.”
My father told Yosef, “Your stepson is a fighter. He fights three at once. And beat them.” He turned to Mary Salome, the mother of Yeshua, and said, “Mary, the last time I saw you was many years ago and you were but a babe. I am your uncle. I am pleased to meet you and your family.”
Mary Salome smiled, “It was providence that you came upon Yeshua in your journey.”
Yosef asked Yeshua, “Why are you fighting three? Is one at a time not good enough for you?”
Yeshua turned to me and said, grinning through a split lip, “It was only two after Judas took down one of them.”
Mary turned to me, “Bless you for helping Yeshua.”
I clapped Yeshua on the back, and told his mother, “Yeshua would have beaten them without my help.”
Yosef shook his bearded head, telling Yeshua, “I have told you many times, your energies would be better spent learning to use the tools of a tekton. The Law says a father must teach his son a trade so that he doesn’t have to take up a despised occupation, such as tax collector, usurer, moneychanger, dung collector, gambler with dice, or a brothel-keeper. All of them will burn in Hades for eternity.”
Yeshua, exasperated, told him, “I am learning to be a tekton. I will soon be ready to run my own crew.”
Yosef said, “Not if you break your hands or your head fighting all the time you will not.”
My father said to Yosef, “I am a tekton and I am training my son to be a tekton. We are going to Zippori for work. I understand there is much building activity in Zippori.”
Yosef replied, “Yes. Herod Antipas, the rabid fox, has decreed that Zippori will be a trade center. Many Romans and wealthy Haribum are building homes there. Most everyone here in Nazareth walks to Zippori for work. You are welcome to eat with us, spend the night, and then accompany us to town in the morning. The job I work on is hiring. Perhaps you can find work there.”
My mother said, “Bless you for your hospitality”. She turned to Mary Salome, “Mary, may I help you prepare the meal? We have four quail Judas caught today and some wild onions and dandelion greens I found that we can add to the pot.”
I had gutted the birds when I caught them. I took them from my bag and handed them to Mary Salome. She and my mother plucked the birds, rubbed the meat in salt then seared the meat over the flames of the fire. They cut the meat into pieces and added it to the boiling stew. They put the onions and greens in the pot, adding garlic, mustard seed and dill. The smell made my stomach growl.
I watched my mother and Mary Salome tend to the cooking. Mary Salome, Yeshua’s mother, was very young. I was surprised at her youth, she must have been just a girl when Yeshua was born. Amongst the pagans, the Philistines and the Habirum of the Sadducee sect, a daughter under twelve was entirely in the power and possession of her father. He could arrange her betrothal and collect the value of the wedding contract in advance, or even sell her into slavery. A girl twelve years and one day could be married. Only when a girl reached the age of twelve years and a half could she choose her own husband. I saw that Yosef’s daughters had been given the freedom of choice as they were older than twelve and a half and seemed to be not betrothed.
Yosef and my father went to the piece of wood and tools Yosef had been working on when we arrived. Yosef, with his long grey hair and beard, was very old compared to Mary Salome. In this land where girls are married young, and usually to older men, these two were unnaturally years apart in difference. If Yosef was Yeshua’s stepfather, I wondered, who was his real father?
While I was standing looking around and anticipating the food, the gate opened and two young men came in. I was introduced to them as Yosef’s sons, Jude and Joses. I was to learn Yosef had two other sons, James and Simon. Yosef had been married before. His previous wife had perished from sickness. Yosef had then taken Mary Salome for his wife.
The food was ready. The women carried the pot and bread in. We entered Yeshua’s home. We gathered at the large table, and Yosef said the prayer. We dipped the bread in olive oil and honey to accompany the stew made of barley and vegetables. The meat from the quail added to the flavor. I listened as Yosef and my father talked during supper. My family, and Yosef and his wife Mary Salome, and all our spread out relations, were of the Pharisee’s, tracing our ancestral lines back to the House of King David. King David took seven women to wife and begat of them nineteen sons. My father’s line was of the son Shephatiah, by the wife Abital. Yosef, Yeshua’s stepfather, was from the line of the son Daniel, by Abigail. And Mary Salome’s line traced back to Nathan, by Bathsheba.
While we ate the evening meal, my father told Yosef we had started our journey from Bethany, where I was born and lived until now. Bethany was on the Mount Olivet, near to Jerusalem. We walked the Roman road, the King’s Highway, through the Valley of Achor to Jericho. There we’d crossed the River Jordan to the east bank, into the Plains of Moab, and traveled north through the lands of Perea and Gilead so as to bypass the land of the Cuthites on the west side of the river. We followed the east bank of the River Jordan north to where it met the dry riverbed of the River Yarmuk that ran south and west out of the wilderness of the Golan. There we crossed to the west bank of the River Jordan at the ruins of the abandoned town of Bet Yerah. We continued west into the Jezreel Valley lying between Carmel Mount to the south and Tabor Mount on the north, arriving finally to Nazareth. It was a journey of five suns.
Yosef asked my father why we had left Bethany. My father replied, “I was building homes in Bethany and some stone setting in Jerusalem. It was steady work. Then Herod Antipas started work on his palace in Herodium. Herod Antipas decreed that all tektons must work for him and, dog that he is, was paying only half wages. I thought to move to En Gedi, the oasis and waterfall at the Salt Sea, to live among the Essenes. There are many Habirum there who are farming. Then our cousin, Yokhanan HaMatbi, came to visit and told me that Zippori was being rebuilt. So I thought to try our luck here instead.”
Yosef shook his head, “Herod Antipas. The Imudean grandson of a slave. He will steal the bread from your plate.”
My father said, “He is not a lawful ruler of the people. The Law tells us. – You shall not set over yourself a foreign man who is not your brother –. The slave, the Imudean grandfather, he was not Habirum and now his grandson rules over our land.”
They were speaking of the tetrarch of Galilee, Herod Antipas. He was the son of Herod I, who the Romans called Herod Great. The Roman senators had appointed Herod I governor of the lands of Galilee about fifty eight years before. Ten years after that, the Romans made Herod I their client king of Judah. Herod I had died two years before my birth. Upon his death, fifteen years ago, his lands had been divided among his sons. The son Herod Antipas had been given the lands of Galilee and Perea. South of Galilee and west of the River Jordan was the land of Judah, home of the Temple in Jerusalem and now governed by the Romans directly.
It was common knowledge that Herod I was not Habirum. His father, named Herod Antipater, was from the pagan land of the Arabah Imudeans, to
the far south and east of the Salt Sea. Herod Antipater had been born to slaves serving at the temple for the Roman god Apollo. The temple of Apollo
was in the town of Ashkelon, a port city north of Gaza on the shore of the Great Sea. The town was on the Roman road Via Maris that ran north from
Aegyptus to Phoenicia. Herod Antipater, being born to slaves, he himself was slave, owned by the temple overseer.
At a young age, just a boy, he was bought from the temple by a wealthy Greek merchant who admired him and lusted to make Herod Antipater his concubinus. The man would dress the young Herod Antipater in the robes of a woman, paint color on his lips, anoint him with perfumes and use him as a lover. Later, when the man died, of poisoning by the hand of Herod Antipater himself some say, he freed the now young man by manumission in his will and left him his home and a large sum of coins. Now being a freedman of wealth, the grandfather inserted himself into the circle of the powerful Roman ruling class, currying favor and gaining influence. Herod Antipater rose from humble beginnings as a temple slave, to slave concubinus of a pederast, to a privileged man of wealth. Herod Antipater filled his home with slaves of his own, for his household chores and for his bed, both young girls and young boys. The former slave, Herod Antipater set himself the task of building a family dynasty. As with most families of great wealth, the original secret source of their fortune was a shameful dark history they seek to bury.
Then the son of Herod Antipater, Herod I, with Roman backing, had seized Jerusalem and Judah from Antigonus the Parthian. Herod I had all members of the ruling council Sanhedrin executed, including his father-in-law. All forty five men were killed by strangulation and sword because Herod I suspected their Hasmonean family connections could threaten his rule. Herod I had plundered the Temple treasury and all the documents secured there for safekeeping by Habirum families. In those documents were the birth records those families used to trace their lineages to confirm their rights and social standings. Herod I burned those records with the intention of clouding the truth of his own background. Herod I claimed to be of a Habirum family who had returned to Judah long before from the exile in Babylonia. Luckily many families had copies of their documents so Herod’s treachery was ultimately not useful to him, and no one believed his false story of him being of Habirum.
This was the beginning of the Herodians who ruled the land of the Habirum. They appointed men as illegitimate high priests of the Temple Mount. Herod I had consolidated his power by making a pagan from Babylonia, called Simon, the high priest of the Temple Mount. Simon had a half-sister, the one called Mariamne the Great Beauty, and Herod I lusted for her. Simon was not of the priestly lineage from the time of Moses brother, Aaron, and thus could not officiate at the Temple rites. The sister Mariamne was of the Hasmoneans, related to Judah Maccabeus, so Herod I used that lineage to defy the Law and appointed him anyway. Thus Simon became the high priest and leader of the Sanhedrin council of elders, subservient to Herod I and furthering the unlawful rule of Herod’s kingdom.
For the last fifteen years, his son, Herod Antipas, the grandson of the slave, was ruler by proxy from Rome of the land of the Habirum. The Herodian line of priests at the Temple continued, with sons and nephews and other male family placed in office and on the altar. Herod Antipas was a cruel man. Where his father had taxed the people for his building projects, Herod Antipas taxed them mercilessly to send tribute to the emperor in Rome and to increase the wealth of his own treasury.
Herod Antipas dealt swiftly with criminals and any person he considered to be a threat to his throne. The most common punishment was the cruci fixus which he used throughout his kingdom. In Jerusalem, just outside the northwest walls of the city on the hill of Golgatha was the killing ground known as the place of the skulls. Herod Antipas had different ways to crucify a person. Normally their arms would be spread on a cross beam and spikes driven through their forearms just below the wrists. Their feet would be spiked on the post. Sometimes Herod Antipas would have them nailed to the cross upside down, so their legs would not carry their weight, thus increasing their torment. Sometimes he would not have their legs broken, which made their hanging longer, because with broken legs death came sooner due to suffocation. The place of the skulls was near to the city so everyone could witness the cruci fixus and know the fate that awaited them if they came to the attention of Herod Antipas. Another way Herod Antipas enjoyed executing his victims was to tie their wrists to their ankles and then they were placed into a large sturdy bag of raw, bloody untanned animal skins. Into the bag with the victim would be put wild dogs and feral cats and snakes, and then, after the screaming victim was tortured for a period of time for Herod’s amusement, the bag was thrown into a hole in the ground and all within buried alive. Herod Antipas was a barbaric savage man who even had his wives, his wives mothers, his sons, and other members of his family murdered if he suspected them of treachery. Indeed, it was said the Roman emperor, Augustus had remarked that he would rather be Herod Antipas’ dog than a member of his family.
Herod Antipas lived at his palace in the rebuilt Zippori or his capital at Caesarea Maritama and was building a new palace at the port of Tiberius on the sea of Chinnereth. He would travel about his kingdom with a military bodyguard, showing the strength of his rule, exacting tribute from all he would visit. Herod Antipas only came to the holy city of Jerusalem for the festivals such as Passover. He didn’t live at Jerusalem because of the rank smell of the Valley of Hinnom at the southern end of the city. This place was usually called the Valley of Dung.
The Valley of Dung was the dumping ground for the city. The dung collectors would go through the streets, an oxen pulling their wagonload of barrels, pouring the citizens buckets of dung into the barrels. When the barrels were full the collector would pass through the Dung Gate, at the southeast of the city wall, to the dumping ground. All manner of dung and trash and filth the city produced was taken to the Valley of Dung. The bodies of dead animals and the bodies of those crucified on the cross were destined for the Valley of Dung, to the fires. It was the despised occupation of certain individuals, the lowest of slaves and criminals who had been spared from cruci fixus, to keep the fires burning and placing the cadavers, dung and trash into the fires. Before the accumulated filth could be set fire and burned to ashes the piles would be infested with waves of burrowing maggots, plagued by countless swarms of greasy well fed rats, and festered by thick clouds of buzzing flies. The overseer of this work was a hulking brute of a man who drove his charges with the whip and used his spear on any who could work no longer or who tried to escape, adding their cadavers to the burning piles. At night the wild dogs would roam and feed and fight and rut and howl. The noise they made was like the torment of lost souls. The fires burned constantly, making black stinking smoke that in the hot dry months when the winds blew from the south out of the Arabahian desert, would cover the city like a low hanging fog. It was a humid, sticky, stinking fog that brought misery and sickness to the people.
The constant burning fires, the black smoke and the stench of the Valley of Dung was said by the prophet Isaiah to be akin to Sheol, the place of eternal damnation. The Valley of Dung was also known as the Valley of Slaughter. This is the place where in earlier times the Canaanites had made sacrifices to the pagan god Baʿal and the fire god Molech. Parents would sacrifice their children by passing them through the fire, burning them to death, to appease their pagan gods, while the multitude banged drums and wailed to block the screams of those being burnt. This abomination was abolished by King Josiah who was sent by ADONAI to rid the Temple of pagans.
Our home in Bethany was north and west of the city, on the north slope of Mount Olivet. We were far enough from the Valley of Dung so it was a rare day when we would even get a breath of the corrupt air from the fires. Only when we went into Jerusalem for the Passover, and if my father had work there, would we have to breathe the stench of the Valley of Dung. I had taken my schooling by tutor at home or at a wise man’s place of study in our hometown of Bethany and so was not in the city very often.
While eating I looked about with curiosity and saw their home was a large rectangle arranged with curtained separate areas for sleeping. There was a paved stone floor with plastered joints and the plaster ran up the walls to seal the stones of the wall. I saw a corner of the large open room was arranged as their home’s praying and worship place. There was a low table of wood, crafted by this family of skilled tektons, and on it I saw many scrolls. After supper, curious, I asked Yosef for permission to look at the scrolls. Yosef nodded his head at Yeshua and told him to show me. The scrolls were written in Aramaic and Hebrew and Greek. I have studied the Book and the Laws and the letters in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. I thought I was well taught but I had not seen the words of these philosophers, who the Greeks called, filósofoi. Yeshua read from the scrolls in a learned manner. I wanted to ask Yeshua questions about these philosophers but the hour was late. It was the end of the day. The water clock was filled, the candles were blown out, and it was time for sleep.
My father woke me in the dark before the dawn, before the first hour which started at sunrise. Sitting up I saw that my mother and Mary Salome and Yosef were also awake, preparing for the walk to Zippori. Mary Salome was by Yeshua’s pallet, waking him.
After a bite of the food left over from supper the night before, we all gathered in the courtyard. The men had their tool bags over their shoulders. Mary had some vegetables she had grown in her garden that she would sell in the market. My mother was helping her to carry them. The daughters carried some cloth they had weaved. The market in Zippori was an important source of coins for this family and the others in Nazareth.
Yosef had told us the night before that Zippori was about three milia passum distant, a walk about one movement of the sun dial. A milia passum was the Roman measurement of one thousand paces, each being marked by a stone milliarium on the roadside. We would walk there, work, then walk back, getting home to Nazareth in the evening. The days now were long but later the days would grow shorter. On those short days we would leave at dark and return at dark. This was done every day, except for the Shabbat of course.
Before yesterday’s supper Yeshua’s mother had given Yeshua a bit of oil mixed with herbs. I went with him to the well where he washed and placed the salve on his face. By the fountain I asked him why those boys had attacked him. Yeshua just shook his head, saying it was nothing and continued to wash. When the sun came up I could see that his face had purple bruises from the beating. But this morning he was cheerful, the beating forgotten. Yeshua’s eyes were as blue as the summer sky and his hair was more light than dark, a light brown. Yosef, his stepfather, and his mother, Mary Salome, had dark hair and dark eyes and Yeshua’s skin was lighter than theirs. Except for his mother’s quick smile, he looked nothing like either of them.
As time passed and I came to know Yeshua better, I would see that sometimes Yeshua was lighthearted and joking but at other times he seemed to be worrying over some personal grievance. At those times he was quick to use his fists on any of the boys and younger men who offended him. For his youth, he had a reputation as a ruthless fighter when in a scrape. The other boys of the village gave him respect and a wide berth. I was always ready to back him up if he was outnumbered. We were both hard fighters, our reputations preceded us. Except for our friendship he was a loner. The other people in Nazareth shunned him for some reason and that had made Yeshua a stranger to them. He had no friends, except me, he told me. I was proud to be Yeshua’s friend. Perhaps we became close because I too was an oddity. I had reddish colored hair. Red hair was considered bad luck among the Habirum. But my mother always told me that I looked like the archangel Uriel who had red hair. She said Uriel was the flame of God. My mother said that of all the seven archangels it was Uriel who warned Noah of the coming flood, and by doing so saved humanity.
During the walk to Zippori, my father asked Yosef about the time he had taken his family to Aegyptus, and what he had done while there. Yosef told my father they left in the year of the bright star when Yeshua had been born, thirteen years before. That was the same year I had been born, but not same month. Herod I had pulled the same trick that had caused my father to leave Bethany. Herod I used the Roman law, ad opus publicum, or works to the public, to force tektons to work solely for him. Yosef said he would rather glean the harvested fields for scraps and be hungry, than work for the Roman lackey son of slaves. So he had packed up his family and left Galilee. They had gone to the land of the Aegyptus. Yosef said he had been born and raised in Alexandria where he had learned to be a tekton working with his father. Yosef had traveled to many places in the land of the pharaohs while a young man, so it was a natural place to escape the servitude of Herod I. They had first gone to the town of Heliopolis where many Habirum lived. The Aegyptus people called Heliopolis the place of the sun. The place of the sun had a temple to the Aegyptus sun god, AmunRa. At that temple was a tekhenu, what the Greeks called an obelisk that was older than the time of Moses, if the stories could be believed. The four sided obelisk was made of carved red granite. The base of each side was wide as a man stretching both arms could reach and the obelisk was as tall as three men. The obelisk had mysterious carvings on it, the meanings of which were unknown.
I interrupted to ask Yosef, “Who built this tekehun?”
He told me, “No one knows what manner of people were builders of the monument, or what gods they prayed to. Yeshua can tell you more about the land of the Aegyptus later. Here is the town. We will arrange the women in the market place then go to our work.”
We passed by the sentries through the gate at the outer wall, across an open area to the inner wall and gate, then into Zippori. The two walls and gates meant invaders could be attacked from the ramparts on both walls, to be shot by archers and burned with pitch thrown from overhead. Past the gates was the main road leading into the town. It was a roadway of paved stones with thick round columns on each side rising in the air marking the way to the temple and the palace of Herod Antipas. The columns were not carved stone but were stacked segments of the Roman opus caementicium, a manmade assembly. Using pulvis puteolanus, ash from a burning mountain, and mixing it with water and sand, the assembly was formed to shape by tektons using wooden falsework. Once the mixture hardened and the falsework removed, the opus caementicium was like stones. Entering Zippori that first early morning I was surprised at the crowds and industry I saw. There was a great bustle as the people moved about setting up to display their wares in the market. The sights and sounds of construction indicated workers making progress.
We followed the columns to the large open market square. Propped against the walls of the buildings and out in the middle were orderly rows of all manner of things for sale and barter. Merchants and villagers displayed fruits and vegetables, grains for bread, dried fishes and the pungent fish sauce called garum, poultry and eggs, pottery, cloth and weavings. Tailors sewed material for robes and clothing. There were bakers and millers, sellers of spices and salt, a currier who worked the cured leather forming sandals, belts and other useful items, candle makers and a seller of pitch for torches. The pitch came from the southern area of the Salt Sea the Romans called Lake Asphaltites. There were also makers of jewelry and amulets, a tent maker, those who collected and sold camel dung and wood for fire making. A smith who was busy stoking his forge hot to make nails and tools. There were wine sellers and water sellers. A man dressed in a colorful robe and turban from Arabah bought, sold and traded horses. A barber cut hair and shaved beards. The barber would also pull a rotten tooth, open a vein or supply a purgative to discharge the evil humors of bile and phlegm. There was a scrivener who charged to write contracts and letters, and a notary to witness the contracts. Some who sold cooked foods were taking morsels off their fires in exchange for coin, my mouth watering at the aromas. It was a carnival of sights and sounds and smells that happened every day, except on the Shabbat.
Along roads leading off the square were located less savory establishments such as taverns where publicans would serve the drunkards. Outside the taverns were the pimps who promoted the talents of their slaves, female and male, young mostly but some older whores for customers with fewer coins to spend. The whores stood or squat awaiting the next paying customer. There were money lenders and gamblers, and collecting
Roman tribute from all, the tax collector. The tax collector would collect from each merchant and seller a bargained cost to conduct business, depending on the value of their goods sold. At the end of one road, downwind from the city, was the tanner. This was a despised occupation as the tanner soaked the animal hides in vats of liquefied dung, which created a sickening odor, to treat and render the animal hides to leather. Just like in Jerusalem, the tanner was kept far from the town center. I thought it amusing that the tax collector was neighbor to the tanner.
My family and Yeshua’s did not need much from the market. We grew most of our own foods, we made most of our own tools, and the women weaved cloth and made the clothes we wore. We had no need of the colorful things prized by the Romans and the Sadducees and pagans. We purchased candles and salt mostly, the rest was of no use.
At the Passover in Jerusalem there were Habirum who had come from all parts of the world. I had seen strange people there, but here in Zippori I saw many new things.
(This is the end of the sample of the book: The Lost Gospels of Mariam and Judas.)