At breakfast, Papa discussed the new shop Samuel insisted on having built for his business. Though he was smiling as he talked, there was a guilty edge to his voice. Our new benefactor had promised me a pony and each of my brothers, even Nehemiah, special gifts too. Samuel’s reply, when Papa said he was being too generous was “You can’t take it with you,” and yet Papa now asked us to wait until the old man recovered in case he had a change of mind. As Nehemiah and I eavesdropped that morning, we heard Papa caution Mama about the generosity of dying men. He and the children would be taking advantage of Samuel in his delicate condition. Mama, who had been promised a new oven, herself, reluctantly agreed.
Nehemiah and I crept away from the window and walked glumly down the path and into the orchard in back of our house. After the episode in the cave, we were forbidden to go further than the orchard, which seriously limited our chances for adventure today.
After screwing his face up in thought, Nehemiah asked “Is it true you want to be a soldier of Rome?”
“Yes,” I pursed my lips thoughtfully, “I dream about it all the time.”
“Does your Papa know?”
“My whole family knows,” I answered with a sigh. “They think I’ll outgrow such foolishness, but I haven’t outgrown it yet.”
“Then I want to be a soldier too!” exclaimed Nehemiah.
Studying the small, skinny boy a moment, I realized he was serious. Fighting the urge to laugh, I embraced him to hide the grin on my face. I couldn’t imagine a more sorry recruit for Rome’s legions, but, as Papa always said “time would tell.” Perhaps, he would grow into a big, powerful man like Cornelius or Longinus. And, perhaps, I thought breaking into giggles, Uriah would become a camel driver or my brother Simon would become a palace scribe. One swift gust of wind and—pffft!—Nehemiah would be gone!
“Why are you acting like that?” He gave me a hurt look.
“Ho-ho, because, I’m proud of you!” I hiccupped and wiped my eyes.
“You don’t think I can be a soldier?” Nehemiah frowned severely. “I’ll show you one day!”
“Oh yes, listen everyone,” I hollered through cupped hands, “Nehemiah shall be the greatest warrior of Rome!”
With his darting points for eyes, pale skin and a ghostly thin frame, it was impossible for my friend to look fierce. I felt unkind for laughing at him, and I apologized profusely, but Nehemiah would not be consoled. He swore on his parents’ graves that he would be as good a soldier as me. I was impressed with the conviction in his voice, but it was shouted from a tiny mouth and punctuated by small, bony hands. The sound of Mama shouting from the backyard saved Nehemiah from further humiliation and me from being pummeled by his little fists. When we were close enough to understand what she was yelling at the top of her lungs, we forgot our silly conversation and raced toward the house.
“Is it time for lunch?” had been my first response.
“I said we got a letter from Jesus!” She jumped up and down excitedly.
“Did you hear that?” I turned happily to Nehemiah. “He’s only been gone a month and already he’s sent us a letter!”
“A special courier brought it to us,” she explained out of breath. “The letter came from Egypt!”
“A special courier?” I cried in disbelief. “All the way from Egypt?”
This made me run even faster, causing me to trip and fall as I charged up the path. Nehemiah whooped with joy himself, catching up with me as I climbed back on my feet. Together, we scrambled into the house where the family gathered at the table. James and Joseph, who had been helping Papa, were already seated. Simon trotted in nonchalantly from the front yard, the twins scampering past to take their seats. A scroll was clutched in one of Papa’s fists, a celebratory mug in one hand.
“One of your Roman friends brought us this!” He grinned at me, as I sat next to Nehemiah in the middle of the table. “Seems as though Joseph of Arimathea has connections.” He waved the document, taking a slurp of wine. “Look at this boys. Imperial couriers, riding all the way from Egypt, relayed this to a Roman dispatcher in Sepphoris. Joseph of Arimathea’s seal is on the scroll.”
“Read it Papa!” I bounced up and down on my stool.
“Very well,” he said, breaking the seal with his knife. “Let’s hear what Jesus has to say about Egypt. . . .It begins, ‘To Papa and Mama and my Brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, Jude, and Nehemiah—’ ”
“He included me!” Nehemiah squealed and clapped his little hands.
“Shut up!” hissed James.
“Greetings from Jesus bar Joseph in Alexandria, Egypt,” Papa continued with a flourish of one hand, “Joseph of Arimathea sends his salutations. My first letter will be brief. There are problems between Joseph’s sons and I, which will require arbitration by their father, but I’m not worried. The Lord watches over me, and I’ve made friends with Joseph’s guards, especially Loftus, one of the Nubians. Though Joseph claims all of his guards acknowledge the One God, I’m not certain that any of them, especially Loftus, is actually a convert to our faith. Loftus wears a carving of a little serpent around his neck, which he kisses for good luck. Once when Matthias whispered a threat to me, when his father was out of earshot, Loftus glared at him and said ‘Do not threaten Jesus. Your father pays me for protection. That includes Jesus too.’ You were right Papa, the Lord works in mysterious ways!”
Papa paused and looked around the room, stunned by the beginning of the letter. Mama was, as the rest of us, hanging onto his words. We all gave him a dumbfounded look. Unable to comprehend the meaning, the twins began squirming impatiently, so Mama allowed them to go outside.
“Well,” James shrugged, “he seems to be in good hands.”
“Loftus is a warrior!” I exclaimed.
“But I don’t understand.” Mama gave Papa a worried look. “Why would Joseph’s son dislike Jesus? What did Matthias whisper in his ear?”
“Please Mary,” chided Papa, “I’m reading exactly what Jesus wrote. Perhaps he’ll tell us soon.”
“As Jesus was saying,” he said, sipping his wine, “Joseph and his sons went into Alexandria for business, with Glychon and Tycho accompanying them as bodyguards, leaving Loftus and Strabo, the Nubian guards, as my protectors. Strabo is not very friendly, but Loftus chats with me in Aramaic as well as Greek. Ever since Matthias whispered into my ear, he has been anxious to know what he said. I told him the truth—please don’t be alarmed—but Matthias said ‘You’re not touched by God, you’re touched in the head!’”
“Uh-uh!” I interrupted, “Samuel said Jesus was touched by God!”
Papa’s eyebrows shot up. “He said that?”
“Uh huh,” I nodded vigorously, “it was a secret.”
“If it was a secret,” sneered James, “why’d you tell us?”
“Jude,” Mama tsk-tsked, “Samuel told you and I that in confidence. Shame on you!” “I didn’t want to burden you with Samuel’s comments,” she explained to Papa. “I, like you, prefer to think of Jesus as a normal, healthy boy, but I’ve been having a lot of dreams. Jude is correct: Samuel and I believe Jesus is touched by God.”
“Humph,” Papa shrugged, “what’s that expression I heard Jesus say?” “Ah yes,” he replied thoughtfully, “ ‘I’ve been kicking against the goad.’ ”
My brothers grew restless. I remembered Jesus accusing me of that too. I understood Papa’s reluctance to admit that Jesus was divine, but, as everyone else at the table, I was anxious to hear more of Jesus’ letter. Mama reached out to break his reverie.
“Joseph,” she pulled his sleeve, “the letter!”
“Oh yes, the letter.” He blinked his eyes, awakening from his thoughts. “Jesus now gives us a description of Alexandria, beginning with his visit to the Great Museum. . . .‘Joseph and his sons returned from their business trip, but did not accompany us to the museum. He explained that he and his sons had already seen the sights of Egypt and Loftus would be my guide until we entered the library portion of the museum and met his friend Demetrius, who would give us the final tour. I think Joseph sensed the jealousy his sons had for me, and I can’t really blame them. He talks to me constantly about matters they can’t yet comprehend. It’s hard for them to understand how someone my age could carry on such conversations with a Pharisee. When we stopped in Jerusalem to drop off his wife, he insisted on taking me to the Temple to meet a few of his friends, who were priests. As you know, the Sadducees don’t believe in an afterlife, whereas the Pharisees, as we, believe that when we strive for righteousness in our faith, we go to heaven. Much of the Pharisee’s belief in this doctrine is based upon the Book of Isaiah, who foretells the arrival of two very different saviors, a conquering hero, like King David, and a suffering, spiritual Messiah, who is despised and rejected by the Jews. Isaiah, however, like Ezekiel, only implies that there’s an afterlife. The truth is, I argued with Joseph, the Torah barely touches upon the subject of reward and punishment after death. It’s as if there’s a whole new half of the Torah yet unwritten, perhaps to be finished when the Messiah arrives. I know, by God’s wisdom, that there are two realms: Paradise and Gahenna. If we don’t strive for righteousness, we go to Gahenna, which the Romans call Tartaros and the Greeks call Hades, but how could I argue this point with Sadducee priests, who base their views on such solid scriptural ground. So I decided, my family, to use the weapons of the philosopher and logician. Though I was respectful to my elders, I found myself arguing in favor of the Pharisaic and rabbinical belief, by first pointing out how strange it was that even the pagan Romans and Greeks believed in an afterlife and yet the Israelites, who obey their Lord more than any people on earth, should not, if the Sadducees have their way. It is, in fact, unnatural not to worry about what happens after one dies. I quoted from passages in the Torah that support an after life, though I realize how few they were in comparison to the scriptures not offering that support. Did not the Lord translate Enoch, Elijah, and Moses directly up into Paradise without death? Where did they not go, if not to heaven? The priests laughed and shook their heads. Joseph was also amused but his sons were resentful and muttered complaints at my audacity. Zadok, one of the chief priests, asked me if perchance I might rewrite Holy Scriptures. Yet he embraced me, as did his associates, and, placing his hand on my head, gave me a blessing by quoting the priestly blessing: The Lord bless and keep you, make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.’”
After taking a sip of wine, Papa waited a moment for our reaction, which came slowly as Jesus’ words registered in our minds. I scratched my head. James and Joseph frowned. Simon yawned, and Nehemiah had a blank look on his pale face. We all had heard Jesus talk strangely before. Mama struggled with something—perhaps another vision—but would not share her thoughts this time.
“Very bold,” murmured Papa, glancing at the scroll. “I’m glad Jesus kept most of that from the priests. I wonder if his benefactor considered his opinions to be heresy. His suggestion to Joseph that the Torah is unfinished should have been considered blasphemous by the priests. And yet his attempt to prove there’s an afterlife isn’t new. Pharisees, such as Joseph, believe in it. We believe it, as do most of the folks in our town. But to express this view to Sadducee priests and defend it on logical grounds is another matter. Essentially, the Torah ignores the afterlife. I never thought much about this, and I would never have imagined that Jesus would argue about this discrepancy in our holiest books. Men have been stoned for less. I can’t help wondering if Zadok was being polite to the Pharisee in his good humored dismissal of our son.”
On that note, as we, his patient family, considered his words, I heard my brother Joseph murmur something to James. Both of them sneered, as if they were not surprised our eccentric brother had gone too far. I gently elbowed Simon awake before Papa gave him a rap on the head. Nehemiah’s deadpan expression implied that he was ready to fall asleep too, as was I. Mama frowned at James and Joseph and bent forward on her stool, trying to hear what they said. Papa’s deep, resonant voice grabbed our attention once more as he resumed the reading of Jesus’ letter. The substance of my brother’s first exploit displayed his great love of Creation—a welcome relief to what came before.
“Despite my heresies,” wrote Jesus, “I appeared to have left the temple in their good graces. Nevertheless, I began my journey on the wrong foot in my effort to point the priests in the right direction. With this said, you might understand why I had mixed feelings about my separation from Joseph and his sons, as Loftus, Strabo and I entered Alexandria’s Great Museum. To be honest, I had been looking forward to our first stop in this huge complex of buildings: the gardens. Loftus was eager to show me this department, since it was his favorite part of the museum, and he promised not leave one corner of it unseen by my eyes. For several hours we wandered through the many interlinking zones, avoiding the pagan statues as much as possible. There were many different kinds of plants and animals I had never seen, including ones from every province of the empire, many also brought from remote corners of the earth. The trees, bushes, and flowers reminded me of Mama’s garden. I will not hide from my disdain at seeing Lord’s creatures locked up in cages, but I confess that I marveled at the variety, size, and color of so many furred, feathered and scaled beasts. One particular fellow, whom Loftus called an ape, looked very much like a hairy little man. He and his family swung from trees growing up inside the high cages. Next door to the apes were smaller creatures, with tails, yet faces like tiny old men. There were many different kinds of these small furred people. From all manner of horned and un-horned four footed beast to the wondrous elephant, we’ve heard about at rabbinical school, Loftus lead me to a great pin, where a large, angry-looking beast with a sharp horn on his nose idled next to other smaller members of his kind. Loftus also showed me all manner of fierce-looking creatures, including lions and leopards, but also striped cats from far off India, whom he claimed the Romans now preferred in killing criminals in the arena.
The scaled creatures, though they are blessed too by God, frightened me somewhat. There were all sorts of colorful snakes and lizards from tiny fellows to giant crocodiles, who sprawled lazily around a great enclosed pond. Alas, I remember so many wondrous creatures, but the ones I think Mama would like the most were the many birds in the great garden of Alexandria, in which a huge statue of the conqueror, himself, stood in the center, as if guarding the assemblage of beasts. I know you would not approve of such a pagan carving Mama, but you would clap your hands with joy at these feathered treasures: cranes, duck, geese, and so many birds, whose names escape me now. In one special set of cages there were birds of prey, including eagles and hawks. I felt great pity for such fliers and hunters, who were thrown scraps of meat and dead fish for food.
As we arrived at the last sector of the gardens, Loftus led me into a specially enclosed area. As we looked down into ponds filled with brightly colored fish, I regretted the fact that we Galileans ate so many of them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we ate only vegetables and fruits? I’ve never liked the gory sacrifices in the temple. In one incredible portion of this domed room there was a much larger pool of water and large fish-like creatures swimming playfully around as other spectators watched. These creatures had intelligent eyes Papa, I’m not exaggerating, and Loftus told me that they were, in fact, not fish at all, but sea leviathans, whose cousins grew to be much larger than ships. Salt water from the adjacent bay was cycled in, he explained, so that they would feel at home, but such creatures, above all others, yearned to be free, for their domain was the Great Sea.
We left the gardens in search of Demetrius, the chief librarian. Loftus had brought bread, cheese, and grape juice in his pack, so we stopped and sat beside a fountain, that was so crowded with Egyptian, Greek and Roman deities, it hurt my eyes. Strabo, who had barely said a word, pointed to a naked goddess and grunted. I will probably have to undergo some sort of purification rite after everything I’ve see on this trip. I forgot to tell you about the many pagan statues in Alexandria. On every corner and every niche an idol to Egyptian, Greek, and Roman deities can be seen. The idol bedecked fountain in the garden symbolized in my mind the plight of the Gentile, who are unsure which god is correct.
Soon we were discovered by Demetrius, as we began searching for the hall of scrolls. At first, the librarian was startled by the Nubian guards. If you think about it, how many tall black warriors accompanying a Jewish youth would be seen walking about in the Great Museum? Nevertheless, I was greatly impressed at his cordial greeting and expeditious presentation of the scrolls.
Demetrius expected me to be awed by the vast repository of scrolls in the library portion of the museum, but the impressions left on my mind of God’s creatures in those wondrous gardens seemed far greater than a great, unfriendly hall filled with the writings of long dead men pigeonholed in endless, featureless stacks. It was much too quiet for my tastes. Signs were posted everywhere in Latin, Greek, and Egyptian demanding silence in the library. Nevertheless, Loftus, Strabo, and I politely followed the portly little Greek as he began his tour.
At first, we were treated to a long-winded introduction of the history of the museum, including a scathing indictment against the Romans for burning the first museum down. My protectors and I were weary from our long journey and subsequent trek through town and we found ourselves yawning during this phase of our outing. I realized how unkind this was to poor Demetrius and, as we passed a fountain in the hall, I splashed water onto my face. As Loftus and Strabo grumbled under their breaths and exchanged scowls, I attempted to put on my most attentive face. With this mindset and simple effort, I found myself drawn gradually toward the great minds of history. The first sector of study, the religious tracts, Demetrius boasted, held scrolls from the Hebrew Torah, as well as documents from Zoroastrian, Hindu, Buddhist, and many pagan religions. These selections, which he explained briefly, caused my protectors to grumble that much more. I immediately requested a closer inspection of the documents, but Demetrius said he would make note of this and allow me to personally inspect the scrolls after the guided tour. I don’t know whether or not Joseph of Arimathea, who is a Pharisee, would approve of me looking at heretical or profane works but the short description Demetrius gave me of some of the great religions of the world wetted my appetite. I had the sudden urge to spend many days in this great building sampling the writings of religious teachers, philosophers, and scientists. The thought came to me from Papa that knowledge, itself, is not evil and, in fact, the lack of it has caused great evil in the world. Perhaps, in many cases where knowledge isn’t righteous, it’s better for us to know the enemy. How can a wise man do good, if he’s not able to avoid temptation? If, perchance, a scroll advises us to do evil, will not the Spirit deflect it?”
Papa stopped in his recitation to draw a breath and take a long sip of wine. Mama displayed an enigmatic smile and nodded, which I can write down as illumination, for indeed Jesus’ mother knew him the best. There were many things that Jesus had said that troubled me, however, that I could, at my untutored age, barely put into words. Judging by James and Joseph’s scowl they had questions too, yet Simon, his eyes half-closed and head bobbing, appeared to be once more falling asleep. Nehemiah sat patiently beside me, his hands folded and eyes forward. Except for the sound of the mug clunking on the table, all I could hear were the twins romping happily in the yard. Papa looked around at us, both a frown and smile playing on his face.
“There are many issues in this letter,” he mumbled reflectively to himself.
“What does this mean?” I made a face.
“Yes,” asked James, “why does Jesus want to read pagan scrolls?”
“Those are good questions.” Papa smiled. “Just where did Jesus learn all those big words? I sense a rebuke in your attitude James. Do you disapprove of him learning about the world?”
“I do,” James nodded, “and so does Joseph. Ever since he brought that stupid bird back to life nothing’s been the same. Jesus is special. We all knew that. But now he’s touched by God. It makes me sick to listen to him carry on. Do you think his brothers will ever have the same opportunity he’s had living in this backwoods town?”
“That’s enough James! Shut your mouth!” Mama jumped up excitedly from her stool.
“There-there, it’s all right,” Papa said. “I know he’s jealous. If I was Jesus’ brother, I’d be jealous too.”
“Really?” asked James. “You’d be jealous?”
“Yes, of course,” answered Papa, patting his head. “Don’t forget,” he wagged a finger, “I was a child once. There are moments, as Jesus’ father, that I’m envious of him for the adventures he’ll have.”
“Someday I’m going to see the world!” I cried. “I’m going to see all the places that Jesus saw and more!”
“That’s the spirit!” Papa reached down and ruffled my hair. “When your mother and I were in Egypt, we never would have dreamed of touring Alexandria. “There’s a big world out there boys,” he declared, looking around the table. “I’ll never stop you from seeing it for yourselves!”
Mama glared at Papa but said nothing. James and Joseph looked in disbelief at our father, as Simon sat groggily on his stool. Nehemiah’s blank expression was impossible to read, though I was certain he shared my goal. Papa had given my own dreams a seal of approval. I wondered if it might not be his wine talking again, but I beamed happily at him as he drained his mug and returned to the scroll dangling in his hand.
“Well,” he sighed deeply, “our Jesus has left us with many riddles. I can’t wait to read about his next adventure!”
“Hump!” James and Joseph grumbled. “There’s more?”
“Joseph,” Mama murmured, tugging his sleeve, “let’s take a break so I can check on the twins.”
Simon, who had found Mama’s supply of grape juice, had to use the cloaca. James and Joseph had no such excuse and were forced to sit there at the table with Nehemiah and I, as Papa looked forlornly at his mug.
“You’ve had enough,” Mama whispered to him as she passed back into the room.
Replacing his mug with a freshly picked clump of grapes, Mama settled down at the opposite end of the table as Papa looked blankly at the scroll. It seemed obvious to me that substituting wine with grapes, from which it was made, would not satisfy Papa at all. I was not sure if Mama’s frown was for his tipsiness or what he had said. It was the first time I had seen her frown at him. She caught my expression and smiled, as if to ease my concern. It had not occurred to me yet that my parents had different expectations of Jesus: Papa saw Jesus as an adventurer and Mama, because of her visions, already saw a dark road ahead. It was also, as I look back, a matter of father’s denial of the obvious versus mother’s gradual acceptance of Jesus’ divinity.
As I listened to Papa read the exploits of my oldest brother, the importance of Jesus’ education escaped me entirely, and yet I was interested in portions of his opinion-ridden report. He was an adventurer as I would one day be. I was consumed with envy for what he was seeing and experiencing. We had been told by Samuel that he might even visit Rome. And yet, not all of Jesus’ letter commanded my attention. So far, much of the scroll was rather dry and loaded with spiritual observations. In his deep, booming voice, Papa resumed his reading, drawing my attention back like a moth to a faltering flame.
“. . . .We reached the Pharos Lighthouse by a narrow strip of rock that connected the tiny island to the city of Alexandria. This journey, Milo, our new guide, explained would have been dangerous during high tide. Tourists such as ourselves have been swept into the bay and drowned. Loftus and Strabo, my protectors, were much more interested in this adventure than the library. Already the tall, magnificent lighthouse loomed mightily in our vision, and I could not imagine anything in my journey with Joseph of Arimathea surpassing this structure. But of course I had not yet seen Greece and Rome!”
With those words I jumped up and down excitedly in my seat. Papa frowned at this interruption, but Mama smiled tolerantly at my enthusiasm, while James and Joseph, who were jealous of Jesus, continued to scowl.
“My energy was dauntless,” continued Papa. “As we walked up the steep wooden staircase that wound up to the great mirror of Pharos, I thanked my Father for the long hikes I took in the hills of Nazareth in communion with Him. My limbs were strong, as were the tree trunk-size legs of my guards, but poor Milo, whose normal duties were in the map room of the museum, was almost spent when we reached the second level of the lighthouse.
Already, I had a marvelous view of the bay and the ships sailing in and out of the harbor. Though winded, Milo took this opportunity to give a brief history of the lighthouse. He explained to us that the building was built of marble blocks joined with lead mortar. In the center cavity, which ran up through all three levels of the building, fuel for the fire and other materials were raised from the ground floor. We had actually seen the pulleys in operation as we ascended the stairs, and, at one point, saw a pallet of wood being transported to the top.
After a long break, in which Loftus bragged about previous exploits, Strabo grew impatient with the delay and offered to carry the little librarian up to the top. Milo, however, insisted on continuing on his own, as long as we stopped frequently to rest. On the way up, we passed other tourists moving up and down the structure, visitors from every corner of the empire. Milo confessed wearily, as we approached the top, that the Pharos Lighthouse was the most popular attraction in Alexandria. Few visitors or patrons of the library cared to spend time in the map room or stroll through the endless stacks of dusty scrolls. Tourists would rather see the gardens or the lighthouse and then visit the hundreds of religious shrines in town.
I was quite excited when we reached the mirror room. It was, Milo explained wearily, made of wood and polished sheets of metal that had been riveted to the frame. Of course, we could not look directly at the mirror if the sun was shining into it. During the daytime, our guide told us, sunlight shining on the mirror produced a blinding flash. At night, the fire stoked by the attendants, turned the great mirror into a giant lamp, with a similar effect. Whether by sunlight or fire, the mirror could be seen by sailors several Roman miles away. Because of the possibility of foul weather and overcast days, the flames in front of the mirror were eternal. Atop this room, which was suffocatingly warm and smoky, was a huge statue of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. At the level on which we stood there was a wide balcony. Avoiding the great, hot lamp, we stepped back to the railing for fresh air. On the balcony Loftus and Strabo found vendors selling refreshments, and I discovered the most incredible vista I had ever seen. No hill had ever offered me such a view. Not only could we see the entire harbor and distant ships approaching, but we could see a great swath of Alexandria. Loftus and Strabo were unimpressed, since they claimed to have seen much greater places, which included the Great Pyramids of Egypt. When I asked Loftus if Joseph would take us to these wonders, he shook his head and told me it would be too great a detour. Joseph had no business contacts in that desolate place but I could ask him myself. I told Loftus, however, that I would be content if this was the last the wonder of the world I had seen.
Walking down the staircase was, of course, much easier than walking up. Milo, though exhausted, was able to make it to the bottom without a break. Due to boredom perhaps, as we made our way down, Loftus chatted with me about the miracles I was alleged to have performed. Strabo perked up, as did Milo. He asked me if it was true that I had brought a dead bird back to life. I explained that it was my Father who had performed the miracle. He then asked me if it had been my Father who had caused a storm to pour from the sky. I admitted this too, but I made it perfectly clear who was responsible and that I had prayed for each miracle. Loftus asked me if I had prayed to the Jewish God or one of the many Roman or Greek gods and, if so, I must be a powerful priest. I explained that there was only one universal God and all believers were priests. All three men seemed to be thinking about what I had said, for when we reached the bottom level and stood there waiting for Milo to regain his breath, I suffered their scrutiny. Loftus did not accept my explanation. In spite of my protests, he believed that I was just being modest. He had heard many priests, in many religions—all were fakes. The Jewish priests were the worst. Speaking for the first time, Strabo suggested that it was more likely that I was a sorcerer, who were known to harness the power of the gods. Loftus nodded in agreement as did our guide. Loftus and Strabo, I realized with disappointment, were still pagans. Wiping his brow, Milo said that anyone who could perform miracles had to be more than a priest or even a sorcerer; he had to be at least a minor deity to perform such magical deeds.
I returned to the city with my protectors somewhat depressed. How can I extol the greatness of our faith if I can’t prove to them the power of prayer? Prayer is the language of God. Miracles are expressions of God’s grace. But the problem is more basic than the Gentile’s inability to understand miracles. My new friends find it difficult to believe in one God. To Gentiles He is merely one more deity among thousands. Will they ever understand that our God is not merely the Jewish god? . . . He is God!”
With this exclamation, Jesus’ first letter ended. A long pause followed his brief farewell, which Papa mumbled under his breath. He seemed to study the last page a moment as we stirred on our stools. I shook Simon awake to prevent him from getting in trouble. Mama looked up with a flicker of disappointment, expecting much more.
“Is that it?” She frowned.
“That’s it.” He shrugged. “ ‘Your loving son and brother, Jesus.’ The scroll ends there—nothing more. Perhaps he had to get it off quickly with some of Joseph’s other letters.”
“Perhaps,” replied Mama. “It was, after all, brought by a Roman courier.”
“I’m hungry,” Simon mumbled, “what’s for dinner?”
Papa sat down the scroll, yawned expansively, and stretched his arms. Staring vacantly at his uneaten grapes, he shoved them over to Simon. I could tell that the letter had left an impact on everyone, except Simon. I was uncertain about Nehemiah. Stirred by Jesus’ adventure, I had begun daydreaming about my white horse and own adventures as a Roman soldier, but the last page struck a note in my mind. Loftus, Strabo, and Milo could not accept Jesus explanation for his miracles. In thinking that Jesus might be a great sorcerer, they were having the same problems with his divinity that we, his brothers, had when he cured the dead bird. There had many other issues in Jesus correspondence, but it was his perception of the Lord that brought forth the first objection.
“Well,” Papa said looking around the table, “what do you think?”
“What does Jesus mean by ‘universal God?’” James gave him a troubled look. “We are the Chosen People. Isn’t our Lord here for Israel alone?”
James had asked an important question. One day Papa’s words would ring true as Jesus set forth on his mission to spread the Word. Walking around the table, he placed a big calloused hand on James’ head.
“Did Joachim teach you in synagogue that the Torah was written only for the Jews? That sounds like something he’d say. Didn’t Isaiah imply that God was intended for the Gentiles? I think Jesus would like to convert those pagan guards. Is that so bad?”
“I suppose not,” nodded James reluctantly, “if Isaiah doesn’t mind.”
Papa ruffled James’ hair. Mama reached out and squeezed his hand.
“What about you?” Papa moved behind Joseph, who sat with a permanent scowl on his face.
“He said it again,” Joseph spat, “he called God his father!”
“Ah, he always says that.” I made a face.
“Yes, Jude’s correct.” Papa now gave me a pat. “We’ve all heard him say it. That would make him a minor god in many pagan’s eyes, but that’s not what Jesus means.”
“It’s not?” challenged Joseph. “Is God his father? If you’re not his father, who is?”
Mama rose up as if she might strike Joseph again. Papa waved her off curtly, a worried frown registering on his face. Once more it seemed that our parents were keeping a great secret from us, one that should have been obvious even to the twins. Perhaps, deep down in our hearts if not our minds, we already knew, and my parents were simply in denial. It could also be that God, Himself, told them to keep us in the dark. Whatever the reason was, our family gathering to hear the reading of Jesus first letter had ended. James, Joseph, and Simon departed into the backyard in starkly different moods—confusion, anger, and indifference, respectively, while Nehemiah expression, as usual, was impossible to read.
My mind was a mixture of all three moods. I was confused but also upset by my brother Joseph’s words. Yet I was also somewhat indifferent because I suddenly had the urge to romp around with Nehemiah until dinner time. As my friend and I scampered around the house to the path leading to the orchard, I heard Joseph discussing their status as adopted sons and James’ response.
“We were adopted after our parents died, but what of Jesus? Are we to believe that he’s really a son of God?”
“Wait Nehemiah,” I whispered, grabbing his arm.
“It’s how Jesus talks,” I heard James explain. “Before Jesus left, Samuel almost said he was the Son of Man. What does that mean?”
Pausing a moment as we turned the corner, I shushed Nehemiah and cupped my ear. Nehemiah cupped his ear too.
“I don’t know what any of this means?” Joseph replied in a muted voice. “Who’s this person we’ve called brother all these years?”
“Our parents know,” James said thoughtfully, “but they don’t want us to know. . . To tell you the truth, Joseph, I’m not so sure I want to know!”