Between Jesus’ letter from Rome and his scroll from Gaul that Justin, our special courier, delivered one bright sunny day, the daily routine of our lives had been uneventful. Everything—Papa’s recovering business, Mama’s cycle of baking, cooking, and cleaning, and the games we children played—seemed normal enough. There were times when I missed that rascal Michael—his creative mischief, foolish exploits, and endless made-up games. Yet Nehemiah, though a dull-wit at times, was a truer friend. He never complained. He followed me around like a faithful dog. With Uriah forbidden to associate with me and the other Nazarene boys spurning my friendship, the only other companionship I had was my older brothers, without benefit of Jesus’ protection. In effect, Nehemiah was all I had. Considering the attitude of townsmen toward my family, I was thankful I had him. Together, as leader and follower, we shared James, Joseph, and Simon’s teasing and abuse. We were Joshua’s warriors, and they were the Philistines as they chased us into the hills. Sometimes, inspired by the Romans marching throughout Nazareth, we pretended we were Roman soldiers and my brothers were members of Reuben’s gang. For all my patience at Nehemiah’s slow-witted response to our games and inability to keep up, however, I failed to see the reason for his slowness and lack of spirit. On that special day when Jesus letter arrived from Gaul, the shadow of death was in my friend’s eyes.
Unlike Jesus first letter from Egypt, his succeeding correspondence filled my family with misgivings. This time James and Joseph arrived belatedly from their work in the shop, their expression difficult to read. Justin had hung around the front yard eating his lunch and drinking a mug of grape juice, chatting with Papa, who seemed in no hurry to read the scroll. Nehemiah and I had been idling in the garden, and, after bidding Justin goodbye, followed Papa expectantly into the house, where Mama stood silently, a fist pressed to her mouth. Though Jesus’ had spiced the end of his last letter with fanciful talk of headless men and giant warrior woman, we expected the same long-winded excursions into religion and philosophy again. As Mama remained standing at the head of the table, a look of concern on her haggard face, Papa whispered to her: “Now, don’t worry Mama, what could happen to Jesus in Gaul?” I remember him smiling and humming to himself, which implied to us that he had been bolstered again by a mug of wine. Sooner or later in his correspondence we expected Jesus narration to detour into spiritual matters. In this we would not be disappointed. No one noticed Nehemiah’s drooping lids and ashen color. For good or ill, all eyes were riveted on Papa as he whispered more reassurances into Mama’s ear.
This time, with a suspicious splash of flamboyance, he stood there a moment longer, scroll in hand, waiting for the right moment to speak:
“Greetings my family from Gaul, which I’m told is Rome’s greatest province. I hope this letter finds you all in good health. I include in my prayers, of course, our good friend Samuel. I trust that Papa’s business is doing better now that I’ve been removed from the scene. I’m writing my fourth letter piecemeal; that is to say I’m making an entry upon the scroll at each important stage of our journey. So, as before, during our trip to Rome, I made my first entry aboard the Trident, our steadfast ship. There is a good reason why I begin my letter from Gaul when our ship was still out to sea.
Don’t be alarmed. Everything is all right now, but for a few hours, as we approached the port of Massilia, it rained so hard we were certain our ship would be swamped. It was quite strange how the sky opened up and poured its wrath down upon us. The waves caused the ship to rock to and fro but not nearly as much as when the storm hit us on our way to Rome. This time the rain would stop before we even had a chance to pray, but it poured down with much greater volume than before. It was what happened after the downpour that shook us greatly. All of us had scurried into our cabin. It sounded as if the roof of the cabin would crash in upon us because of the dreadful clamor. When the rain stopped, we laughed at our fears as we filed out into the waterlogged ship. This time the deck was thoroughly drenched, because, Joseph explained to us, the cloudburst had been heavier, constant, and the side rails of the ship couldn’t contain the crashing rain. Because it had also poured down into the unsecured deck below, the vessel was now partially swamped and would sink, if the bilge pumps could not expel the water fast enough. Captain Menalek assured us that the pumps were working adequately, but, according to his first mate, Tabor, another similar downpour would cause the ship to sink. Everyone prayed very hard that it would not rain again. Even our guards, as terror melted their stony expressions, joined in our appeal. In the foreground, which proved to be a great distraction, the pagan crewmen prayed to Neptune or Poseidon, respectively, the Roman and Greek gods of the sea. Moving away from them to the bow of the ship, Joseph took control of our efforts, asking God to ignore the blasphemies offered to pagan gods. I shut out all these distractions by stuffing my fingers in my ears and begged God to spare our ship. This time, however, He was silent, and it rained even harder than before. This was, I must confess, the most miserable part of our journey. We were all soaked head to toe in the chilling rain, and the roof began to leak as we huddled in the cabin. I couldn’t believe the Lord had forsaken me, yet who was I to think my prayers were greater than Joseph or his sons. All of us called out fervently. Loftus promised the “Jewish God” that he would sacrifice a bull, himself, if he kept us afloat. Our supplications, along with the incoherent prayers of our guards and distant caterwauling of crewmen became a maddening roar as the planks of the ship groaned and water trickled in.
When we tired of this exercise in futility, Matthias, in state of shock, mocked me bitterly: “Where’s the Lord now?” He shook his fist. “You’ve angered him by your arrogance.” “You’re going to drown just like us!” He pointed accusingly. “All your blasphemous talk has angered God. Because of you, we’ll all die!”
Doubling up his fist as if he might strike his hysterical son, Joseph roared, “Shut up Matthias, shut up! This is not Jesus’ fault.”
Loftus placed his arm on my shoulders. “This is the fault of that drunken captain, who failed to batten down the ship.”
“Wha-what happened?” Levi turned numbly to his father. “What kind of storm dumps that much water at one time.”
“I remember such a storm,” I mumbled, recalling a storm in Nazareth. “The sky opened up and flooded our town. The gardens were all ruined. Everyone in town complained of damage to their homes.”
“Yes, but it’s very rare,” Joseph explained grimly. “One moment the sky’s clear and the sea’s calm, then suddenly a storm blows in to dump torrential rain. I’ve seen it on land, but never on a ship. Loftus is right, though, the captain was careless. This should never have happened. If we make it to shore, I plan on finding a more reliable captain and better crew.”
“It’ll be too late then,” Levi groaned miserably. “. . . . So close to land, yet so far from safe harbor.”
A feeling swept over me—the same illumination I had during the last storm. I knew that our prayers would be answered. “Fear not,” I reached out to touch Levi’s arm, “the Lord is with us!”
“How do you know this?” Matthias snarled. “Did God tell you this too?”
“Yes,” I answered, dropping my eyes.
“Bah!” He turned away in disgust.
“Matthias,” growled Joseph, “I’m not going to tell you again.”
“I believe him,” Loftus said with conviction. “He saved us before.”
“I saved no one,” I replied, shaking my head. “Our prayers delivered us from death.”
“Whatever.” Loftus grinned, ruffling my hair.
“I believe him too,” Glychon stepped forward brusquely.
Strabo, normally taciturn, grunted in agreement. Tycho nodded, reaching out to touch my arm. Joseph, like his sons, however looked at us in disbelief. As I stood amongst the guards, it struck me as significant that Gentiles would have more faith than educated Jews. It proves once again that knowledge can be a stumbling block to faith. The four men, who witnessed the previous miracle, accepted, without second thoughts, the miracle about to commence. Joseph and his sons, who as Pharisees, understood both science and scripture, accepted only the evidence of their senses: water was pouring into our vessel, so the ship would sink, period, end of story—we’re all going to die. And yet, as my protectors stood looking down at me, the rain stopped abruptly. The second deluge, in fact, stopped even more quickly than the first. Though the water was now up to our ankles, the bulkhead had not shattered and the ship was still afloat. Pulling the door open, Strabo motioned impatiently for us to exit. Joseph was the first out the door.
As we filed out one-by-one, we were met with chaos on the ship. The waterline had risen and our vessel listed slightly to the side, indicating that we were, in fact, sinking, and yet I wasn’t afraid. The bilge pumps, the first mate, reassured us, were working and, as we discovered, sloshing across the deck, every available hand was dumping pots, pitchers, and buckets of seawater off the rails. Because the oarsmen on Joseph’s rented ship were slaves, they were unchained at his insistence, a compassionate act which Loftus considered foolish, since these men would run around in panic and might even try to escape. Unwilling to be drowned like rats below, they became a great nuisance to seasoned marines as they streamed out of the hatch. All of us joined in the efforts of saving the ship, steering clear of these desperate men. The first mate and several husky sailors, including Loftus, Strabo, Glychon, and Tycho divided by pushes and shoves the panicked oarsmen and crewmen evenly on each side of the deck to avoid capsizing the ship. There were not enough containers for everyone to scoop up water, so only those able to find them performed this task. This, of course, included Joseph’s guards when they were not herding frightened men. The rest of us, following Tabor’s instructions, when not relieving exhausted crewmen, tossed barrels, crates, and disconnected rigging overboard. According to the first mate, the weight of the ship was an important factor that could offset the weight of water on the deck. Too much weight on any one part of the vessel would defeat the efforts of the crew and also send us to the bottom. Unknown to us until Tabor shared this information with us, was a discussion between the captain and first mate on whether or not to lighten the load by tossing panic stricken slaves overboard until the bilge pumps had done their job. What saved some of the oarsmen was the success of the guards and crewmen in distributing the weight on the ship and the sheer efficiency of the passengers and crew. After several hours of tireless effort, the waterline of the ship had dropped noticeably lower. As oarsmen swabbed the deck and sailors unfurled the mainsail, we discarded our containers now that there was barely any water on the deck.
As we returned to our cabin for the final league of our journey, Loftus gave Joseph’s sons a contemptuous look. “So, little warriors, you were wrong. Jesus knew the storm would end because his god is stronger than Neptune or Poseidon.”
“My god is God,” I corrected him gently.
“They will always be pagans,” grumbled Matthias. “Superstition guides their rustic minds.”
Had Joseph not been in the cabin, I think one of the guards would have struck him. Joseph frowned disapprovingly but said nothing. Matthias declared almost matter-of-factly then “The way he talks, Jesus thinks of the Lord is his personal God. No wonder the guards are confused. He’s constantly talking to ‘his father’ as if he is His own son.”
Joseph shook him angrily and whispered another rebuke, this time in his ear. I can barely explain how I felt that moment. It was as if the Lord touched my very soul. What Matthias said, of course, I shouldn’t take seriously, and yet I felt light-headed, my heart hammered in my chest, and I scarcely heard the voices calling me back down to earth.
“Are you all right?” Loftus asked, his face looming into view.
“I-I’m fine.” I blinked several times.
Joseph brought a chair up, eased me down onto the cushion, and studied my face. Glychon poured me a cup of wine from a flask he and the others shared.
“You looked as if you were in a trance,” Joseph murmured, bringing the cup up to my lips.
“He’s too young to drink wine,” protested Levi. “It’ll go to his head.”
“Nonsense,” snorted Loftus, “it’ll do him good.”
“He needs a few swallows to break the trance,” Glychon said, taking a swig himself.
“That’s ridiculous,” Levi protested, “wine only befuddles the mind.”
Nevertheless, Joseph held the cup as I drank. “Jesus is old enough. Before you turned thirteen, you and Matthias were sneaking into my cellar and drinking my wine.”
It was a strange sensation. Almost immediately, I felt the effects of the strong, resinous drink. I was even more light-headed than before, yet it calmed me down. My heart slowed, and I felt a strange peace, though I also felt as if I would take flight above the floor. The Lord seemed to be smiling at my fanciful thinking. Everyone, even Joseph’s sons were smiling now, perhaps mockingly but I felt great joy in their company. Here I was, approaching another great city, in the company of a great Pharisee and Joseph’s magnificent Nubian and Syrian guards. What other wonders lie ahead of me, if I could feel such illumination after one swallow of wine?
Aboard ship, we ate frugal meals. This was because the last big storm had spoiled much of the ship’s stores. I missed Mama’s flavorful stews and her wonderful hot rolls. I must admit, at least most of the time, that I was treated with respect by my benefactor and ate well in his care. For the most part, the remainder our trip to Gaul was pleasurable enough. The sea would churn and there be an occasional light rain, but nothing more. Fortunately, Joseph’s cargo of wine was intact and his Roman paper had been secured in watertight drums. During the last few leagues of our journey, our most recent sea voyage became especially difficult for Levi, who sank into despair during the last storm and took to his bunk. I thought it might my fault. I seemed to be challenging what he and Matthias believed in. As we filed down the gangplank, however, he appeared to be suffering from a fever caught from the damp weather or something he ate—Joseph was not certain which. It had come on so suddenly. When a servant of Joseph’s client met us with a carriage, we rushed his feverish son into the coach. Loftus, Strabo, and the Syrian guards quickly mounted the extra horses provided by the servant. Joseph gave the order, and the coachman spurred his team with a call and crack of his long whip.
Matthias had not forgotten his enmity toward me, but as the four of us sat in the rumbling, jiggling coach, all of our attention was focused upon the youth in our midst. Levi tried to be brave about his illness, telling us that it was probably the chill he normally caught this time of year. Considering his son’s burning fever and ghastly pallor, Joseph wasn’t so sure. The overcast sky told us that the storm had blown onto land; soon the sky would open up again and pour down its wrath. This time Joseph’s client had not met us, which was proper for polite business. As the raindrops fell, Joseph confessed to us that their visit to Gaul had started on the wrong foot, especially because of this slight. Of course, he explained, during our ride into the port city of Massilia, Ulfius was a Gaul, naturally boorish compared to Roman merchants. When Matthias pointed out how barbaric had been Marcian and his friends, Joseph laughed softly at his own logic. “Who am I to judge any man?” He muttered to himself. When we were once more caught in a storm, the poor coachmen reined in the horses to prevent the carriage from overturning on the slippery cobblestone road, so that our dreary trip was slowed to practically a crawl.
Levi grew delirious and mumbled incoherently to himself. Joseph, Matthias and I piled our robes on him to keep him warm, yet he shivered violently and his teeth chattered loudly in his head. By the time we reached Ulfius’ villa, we were all plagued by hunger and exhaustion and plunged into despair over Levi’s fate. The servant accompanying us on our trip now ran into the house to announce our arrival. It took far too long for him to muster up our host and the other servants of the house. Joseph was frantic with worry as he and Matthias helped poor Levi out of the coach. We were soaked by the time a pair of slaves arrived with a strange looking canopy they held over us to protect us belatedly from the deluge. Loftus was furious at our reception and dared say as much to Ulfius as the eight of us entered the house. This time there was no separation from our loyal guards, as we were brought towels and fresh garments to replace our wet clothes. With the exception of my two little sisters, the Gaulish merchant, was the fairest person I’ve set eyes on—certainly the blondest man I had ever met. He was quite drunk but in a merry mood, his pale blue eyes flashing with concern over our condition, especially that of Joseph’s youngest son.
“I swear by Rome’s gods,” he exclaimed, raising his hand in an oath, “I didn’t expect you until tomorrow.”
“He’s drunk, just like Marcian.” grumbled Matthias.
“Now Ulfius,” Joseph shook his head wearily, “I plainly stated to your agent when it would be. All amenities aside, our business must be placed on hold until we find a physician for my son.”
“At once,” Ulfius said with a bow. “Europos! Europos!” He called for his chamberlain.
The Gaul was stared down by the big Nubians. Our Syrian guards were sent to attend to our luggage and the disposition of the coach and horses rented for our stay in Massilia, while Loftus and Strabo went ahead to supervise the preparation of our rooms. I understood, by these assignments, that Joseph wished to diffuse a potentially foolish show of anger by our guards. All such tasks were traditionally the job of the host’s attendants. It seemed we had interrupted the Gaul during a party, for we could hear laughter and merriment in a distant room. Since Ulfius, was, unlike our previous hosts, a Gentile, Joseph, his sons, and I might be expected to go through ritual purification when we returned to the temple in Jerusalem. After our treatment at Publius villa in Rome, however, I was not terribly concerned about being defiled in Ulfius’ house. Our current host immediately set about making the best of a bad situation. Levi was led, groaning and close to fainting, into a large, well-decorated room, perhaps Ulfius own chambers, and attended to by our host’s private physician, Vincentius, who was slightly drunk himself.
In spite of Vincentius’ wine sodden breath, he appeared to know exactly what to do. Levi’s sweat drenched clothes were removed, he was sponged off with cold water by slaves, and, after being given a sleeping gown, plied with the physician’s special poultice and tonic. Levi was also spooned a hearty porridge and a drug spiced wine, while the remainder of us were given sanctuary from the noisy Gentile guests in another room. While Matthias sat in moody silence, a wine goblet clutched in his hand, Joseph and I frequently checked on Levi’s progress. One moment he was awake in a delirious state, then, when we returned, he was in a deep, death-like sleep. During our last inspection, Vincentius was nowhere in sight. Our host stood there in the room looking down at Levi, whose eyes were again shut and mouth wide open as he gasped for breath.
“My physician has gone to get a basin and knife to bleed your ailing son,” he explained, as the candle light cast our shadows across the room.
Turning to Joseph he spread his palms and lowered his head. “There’s nothing else we can do. I’m told that the Jewish god can do great miracles. I only pray that you haven’t brought the plague into my home.”
The thought shook Joseph and I. Fear grew on the Gaul’s face as the thought took hold.
“No, I can’t believe it. It’s just a chill,” the Pharisee’s voice shook. “He had the same reaction before. Levi can’t take damp weather. I should never have brought him to this God forsaken place. This is all my fault! We should never taken ship for Gaul!”
His face contorted, and he clutched his fists—not from anger at our contrite host, but at himself for placing us in harm’s way. Plague, of course, had killed many people in our homeland, including my family’s relatives in Galilee.
“I’ve never considered this.” He looked up at Ulfius. “. . . . Is it here now?”
“Not in Massilia,” Ulfius sighed. “Vicentius isn’t sure it’s the plague. He told me it might be reaction to bad food.”
Peering down at the stricken youth, I shook my head. “We didn’t get sick eating the Trident’s food. Did you check his stool. My mother always checked our stools.”
“Eew, what a wretched thing to do!” Ulfius made a face. “I’ll have to ask Vincentius. What, in the name of Jupiter, would that prove?”
“Many things,” Joseph replied, a flicker of encouragement growing in his eyes. “If there’s no blood in it or if it’s not pale, it may be a common malady of the lungs, which our physicians can cure with herbal poultices and the smoke of certain leaves.”
“Sounds like something our Druids once did.” Ulfius gave him a thoughtful look.
Though disgusted by the thought, he ran out of the room, Joseph following quickly behind as they searched for the physician, whom I suspected was not competent to cure Joseph’s son. Why did he feel as if he had to bleed him? I know that our healers often resort to this treatment, but to drain a man of blood when he needs this vital fluid to sustain life seems wrong. What if poor Levi did have the plague? This meant, of course, that everyone around him might be contaminated too. As I stood in the room studying the young man, a great dread filled me. The shadow of death was on Levi’s face. I knew that he was going to die.
“Dear Father,” I gave a wounded cry, “please don’t let Levi die. Joseph is a good man. Spare him this loss.”
I fell upon my knees and prayed harder than any time in my life. I won’t write down the words—they were between the Lord and me, but just when it seemed as if God had made up His mind about Levi, a wordless response came swiftly into my head—the unspoken language of the Lord. That special feeling I had with the sparrow and those times God quieted the storm filled me with confidence, causing the words to spill out of my mouth, “Levi, son of Joseph of Arimathea, in the name of the Lord I bid you rise!”
It seemed, even with the Lord’s assurance, to be a vain and reckless act. Who am I to challenge the Lord’s will? What if Levi was already dead and in Paradise? Would this not be an impossible request? After bringing up a stool, I sat alone at Levi’s bedside, which was good. Had Joseph or Matthias heard me, their doubts about me being a blasphemer and heretic would vanish. Ulfius would think I was a demigod or sorcerer as the Romans do in our town. The worst thing that could happen, though, was Levi dying, not my offense against Joseph and Matthias. The longer I sat watching him hover between life and death, the more I realized how much I was asking of the Lord. This wasn’t a sparrow or storm. The time our family prayers helped save Uriah’s life was child’s play compared to this. I closed my eyes again for one last prayer. Distant voices of revelry, undaunted by the crisis, seemed to emphasize the futility of my request. What were we Jews doing in this pagan Gentile’s house anyhow? Then, as I heard the sound of footfall in the hall, I glanced down to discover Levi’s eyes open. A faint smile on his sweating face as he looked up to me was evidence of one more miracle. I began trembling with joy, yet I managed to control my emotions as Joseph, Ulfius, and the tardy physician clamored into the room.
Levi said something very strange to me that moment. “I saw you,” he whispered hoarsely. “. . . . You reached down and pulled me from the abyss.”
“The Lord healed you.” I replied simply.
Levi rose up on his elbows. I immediately poured him a mug of water and pressed it to his lips. By then the men had seen the miracle sitting there for themselves. The physician’s eyes widened in wonder, and Ulfius let out a surprised laugh. Joseph’s mouth reminded me of a fish treading water, as he lurched forward to hug his son. I did not plan on telling him about my special prayer unless he asked. Matthias had been drawn finally to the scene and could scarcely believe his eyes, as he ran to embrace his brother. I moved away from the bed, Levi’s eyes remaining locked in on me the whole time.
“What happened in here?” Vincentius asked, overjoyed that his patient hadn’t died. “That potion must’ve done the trick.”
“He did it.” Levi raised his arm and pointed feebly.
Vincentius looked back at me. “You did what? Did you place a spell over this man?”
“No,” I answered truthfully, “God healed Levi. I simply prayed.”
For the first time since we began our long journey, Joseph’s oldest son remained silent at my supposed airs. He shook his head at the thought, and yet he continued to stare in wonder at his brother. Joseph shrugged his shoulders faintly, stood up wearily upon his legs, and placed a heavy arm on my shoulder. I was exhausted from my prayer, a sensation I had never felt before.
In the most faint whisper he asked me, “I know you asked God to heal my son, but Vicentius believes his potion did the job? . . . Which is it, Jesus—potion or prayer?”
“You have said it,” I answered, glancing at Levi. “Because of prayer, he lives.”
“Well, unless he was given him a wonder drug,” Joseph admitted wryly, “you must have God’s ear!”
“You do too,” I said, gripping his forearm. “All things are possible if you have enough faith.”
“Do you think I should dismiss Ulfius’ physician?” He asked in a whisper. “That fool wanted to bleed him. The Lord only knows what’s in that stuff he gave him.”
We watched Vicentius listen to Levi’s chest, check his pulse, and study his pupils a moment—all the things I remember a physician doing. Joseph had already forbidden him from drawing blood, but he agreed to check his stools the next time he defecated, a notion that troubled Ulfius very much. Though he asked for solid foods, Vicentius wisely insisted upon a hearty porridge and some honeyed wine instead. Levi’s recovery was, in fact, not complete, and the physician wrote down on paper a proper diet for him to eat until his coloring changed and advised him to avoid exertion, damp air, and to get plenty of rest.
That night, when I crawled into on my pallet, I found it to be far more comfortable than the ones I slept on before, but I was shocked at the pagan paintings overhead. Quickly blowing out my lamp, I lie there in darkness feeling ritually unclean in spite of my liberal views. I won’t go into details, but the images had nothing to do with gods or goddesses, which are bad enough. I remember hearing it said that “you can be in the world; just don’t be of it,” but there had been many times during our journey when I felt such dreadful images loom out at me and leave imprints on my mind, making me shiver each time I recalled a particular one. Such an imprint I felt the night Levi almost died. Perhaps the Gentiles were a dreadful folk, as many Jews believed. That picture on the ceiling seemed to be purest evil. There can be no doubt that they have caused my people great suffering. And yet I felt drawn to my guards and other Gentiles I’ve met, even the Gaul Ulfius, who had employed an artist to paint that abomination overhead. In their love of unclean foods, strong drink, and false gods, I saw only ignorance and, in the examples set by Loftus and Strabo, childish innocence. I know now that our guards are not far from the Kingdom. . . . Something momentous, beyond my understanding, looms in the horizon—a day when Gentile and Jew will share the promise. How I know this I can’t say. I think I’ve always known it. Perhaps Joseph’s right; I must have God’s ear…. So, why is He so closemouthed about my future? What lies ahead remains a mystery, sometimes filling me with dread. Why do I see only shadowy glimpses in my dreams?
This night in Ulfius’ house was the greatest miracle of them all. As I lay on my pallet, my head swam with questions. Did my prayer really save Joseph’s son? Why is my prayer more powerful than other men? Levi was close to death, but now he’s on the road to recovery. After the first words he spoke to me upon awakening from the dark sleep, I sensed that one day, despite his prejudices, we would become friends. I’m not sure about Matthias, but I will try to win him over too. Joseph, Loftus, Strabo, and the Syrian guards have great affection for me. I feel truly blessed with their friendship. All things considered it has been a great adventure for me so far. But, as I slept that night, the images on Ulfius’ ceiling loomed up like Gehenna in my mind. Temptation—a word you, my parents, warned me about, came to me as a red haired woman in gossamer veils. The devils our religion warns us about—gluttony, vice, envy, and sloth may have followed as the woman chased me, but Lust was her name. We were running in a long dark tunnel it seemed. It grew cold in this unholy place. I looked back to see the woman’s beautiful face turn ugly, her minions mere shadows scampering along. Praying I would escape this path, I saw light ahead of me in this dream-like world. My temptation had been replaced by irritation and loathing, until, at last, I awakened on my pallet staring up at the dark. Foolishly, I had blown out my night-light. I could hear sounds in the house, probably Ulfius’ friends, but all was blackness around me. Knowing where the lamp had set, but not knowing how to light it without a flint, I was forced to lie back down in the darkness and wait out the night. . . . All because of those nasty pictures overhead!
When the first breath of dawn glimmered in my room, I thanked God that I survived the night. The ceiling had been, I fancied, like looking into the porthole of Gehenna. It was then that I noticed that some of the walls had provocative paintings on them too. Quickly dressing and splashing water onto my face, while avoiding the murals, I hopped into my sandals. Eyes shut most of the way, I grabbed my cloak and stepped blindly into the hall. Wishing to shake the dream imagery from my mind, I began exploring Ulfius house, searching for an entrance to the center court or a way out of the villa altogether. I discovered all manner of naked statuary and obscene painting in the villa as I passed through. Fortunately, morning shadows still cloaked the walls, ceilings, and floors. It was necessary for me to take the nearest lit lamp with me, as I made my way. The hulking forms of men and women, lying together, in some cases intertwined on the floor, was lingering proof of the lifestyle practiced by our host. The evidence of his party last night made Publius gathering of four drunken Romans seem tame. On the way out, I dodged a writhing mass of water nymphs bubbling water from their mouths into a shell-like bowel, and found myself in the midst of plants that dwarfed in size and splendor the ones in Publius’ garden. Everything I had seen so far reminded me of the floor plan of Publius smaller estate. In the manner of all Roman houses, the villa’s central court was surrounded by various rooms. As in most Roman villas, a rather featureless wall probably encircled the estate, giving the occupants security from the outside world. When I reached the end of the garden, an exit sign, written in Latin, directed me to the stables.
I thought about that special morning Jude and I greeted the dawn. As I looked passed the dark silhouette of the stables, I marveled at the panorama of distant hills and the rooftops of the marbled port city of Massilia. Except for the dreary weather and terrible journey, it almost felt like Publius’ quarter in Rome. I could hear the whinnying of horses in the stables, the coo of pigeons in the rafters, and the barking of feral dogs. Loudest of all sounds, though, was the slap of my sandals on the cobbles and my own labored breathing. When I stopped in my tracks, perking my ears to the awakening world, I realized I had walked a great distance away from the stables, pigeons, and barking dogs. I was in a meadow now, perhaps a portion of Ulfius’ farm. In the background were an assortment of trees, some of familiar shape, other black silhouettes against the rising sun. God’s presence grew in the stillness. I was not sure whether He was pleased or troubled with me now. He was just there: watching, waiting, and listening to my thoughts. He seemed like my personal Father those moments, which I’m sure was true for all believers, and yet the feeling deepened as I stood on the path. Something else so basic caused me to gasp. Tears welled up in my eyes. As the world loomed around me, I was reminded, with Isaiah’s vision, that Gaul, Egypt, Greece, and Rome were ruled by one, indivisible God. It was one world and one God and, in many ways, one people, divided by time and history, having the same Father and Creator, striving for the same reassurance after death. . . eternal life. All other gods and vanities were false. There was but one truth.
Suddenly, jarring the quiet, Loftus called through cupped hands, “Jesus, come back quickly. There are wolves on the outskirts of town.” “Wolves,” I muttered to myself, “I heard dogs.” He couldn’t be serious. The thought chilled me, however, and I ran in a panic back up the path. When I reached the stables, panting and gasping for breath, Strabo and the Syrian guards emerged from the morning shadows laughing loudly at me. Loftus broke into guffaws, himself, when he was sure I was not angry.
“You should’ve seen the expression on your face!” He slapped his knee with mirth. “I’ve never seen you run so fast!”
“You could’ve casted a spell on them,” Glychon suggested, slapping my shoulder, “and turned those wolves into mice!”
“Or make them vanish, like that!” Tycho snapped his fingers.
“Enough!” Strabo held up his hand. “Our little magician has done enough miracles.”
My head fell to my chest. “I thought you understood. This isn’t magic. I’m not a sorcerer.”
“We’re just teasing,” Loftus said, giving me a hug.
“We know you have a powerful god.”
“Once again, my friend,” I said, looked at him with beseeching eyes, “my god, is God!”
“Of course,” Glychon scratched his scraggly beard, “a very great god, but why is he invisible?”
“He’s not invisible.” I frowned. “No one said that. In our earliest scrolls he walks in the Garden of Eden, which implies that he looks like us. He can’t be seen by mortals in this life, but we might see him in the next.”
“We, what do you mean we?” Tycho uttered a cynical laugh. “I shall be in Tartaros with all my family and friends or in the Elysian Fields, where there are beautiful woman and streams flowing with wine.”
I tried to laugh but found myself shuddering at the thought. How could I reach them if all my words and even God’s miracles failed to convince their rustic minds?
“Is it true?” Strabo searched my face. “. . . . Did your god once walk on the earth?”
“Yes.” I nodded, watching a eagle soar high up in the sky. “Our God could take any form he wanted, but he created man in his image. That means but one thing.”
“Is there wine in your heaven?” Tycho grinned foolishly.
“How about women?” Glychon elbowed me crudely. “I heard Jewish angels are beautiful. What do you do for amusement up there?”
“That’s ridiculous.” I sighed with dismay. “There’s no such thing as Jewish angels. When you enter heaven you’re beyond mortal needs. It shall be pure bliss.”
“I can’t imagine paradise without wine and women,” Loftus said thoughtfully. “I would be bored out of my mind.”
A servant stepped out of the villa to inform us that the morning meal would soon be served. As we drifted toward the entrance of the garden, discussing the nature of the Jewish afterlife, I understood more clearly than ever before that such a concept was virtually alien to the Gentile mind. I firmly believed that all people feared death and longed for eternal life. It was this business of heaven or paradise that appears to be an important stumbling block for Gentiles accepting our faith. Because their gods are worldly like mortal men, they naturally imagine heaven to be filled with worldly pleasures, including vice. The failure of pagans to comprehend an invisible god or, more likely, a god they can’t see carved in stone, are equally unacceptable for them. We Jews have barely even found a name for our God, for translated Yahweh merely means I am. The greatest stumbling block of all, of course, which I sometimes question myself because of its brutality, is circumcision. This, more than anything else I can think of, will keep most of them from converting to our faith. Yet even if all of these issues were in their favor—heaven, God’s nature, and circumcision, I wonder if they could accept and obey our laws. There’s so many of them that even our people find them hard to obey. For that matter, would Gentiles be able to give up pork, one their favorite meats. I was told by Loftus that they eat snails, bugs, and even certain snakes. Pagans eat all manner of unclean foods and practice all manner of vice, exemplified by the ceiling and walls of Ulfius’ rooms. Our guards tolerate our faith because it’s the religion of their employer. That’s one reason why I felt there might be hope for them, but I failed to consider the most obvious conflicts of them all: magic and superstition. We Jews believe in a gracious God, the bestower of miracles, whereas pagans propitiate their gods with incantations and sacrifices. The exceptions to this pattern I’ve found are those Romans and Greeks who believe in nothing but philosophy and science. Joseph explained to me that most Gentiles pray to their gods for good luck rather than grace or to prevent their god’s wrath, which is capricious. There is no moral imperative in pagan religion. The guards would probably laugh if I read to them the Ten Commandments. In the Gentile mind most of our Jewish sins are not vices at all but the natural instincts of men. Moreover, they’re unable to separate magic from miracles nor rise above primitive superstition in order believe in an abstract god. To do this they would have to make that that leap of faith that requires believing without seeing—a big demand for someone like Loftus, who wears a serpent charm around his neck. Loftus kisses the amulet for luck, in the same way Strabo rubs a magic rock (a Nubian shaman sorcerer gave to him), and I’m certain Glychon and Tycho have their magical objects to rub or kiss too.
Despite all these stumbling blocks, I cling stubbornly to the hope that Gentiles can one day share in the covenant and blessings of God, but it will require more than miracles, which only prove to our guards, in spite of my fine words, that I’m a sorcerer and practitioner of magic. It seems perfectly natural to them that I have a powerful god. They have great respect for the Jewish God. In their mind’s eye, however, my god, whom I pray so fervently to, gives me my magic in the same way Zeus or Artemis dispenses magic to the pagan supplicant when the right incantations are given or rituals are performed. This is the thread I must unravel in their stubbornness: the difference between magical power and miracles generated by prayer.
Bolstered by my conviction, I ate heartily at Ulfius’ sumptuous table, which he informed us contained only “Jewish” food. Though our host plied me with wine, I drank sparingly. I don’t like the false euphoria give by strong drink, and yet I can’t condemn a temperate man such as Joseph, who nurses his first mug of wine and, when given a second mug, leaves it unfinished when leaving the table. Ulfius, who complained of a ringing head when he sat at the morning table was not a temperate man. Yet he was not devious as Publius had been. The business that he had with Joseph had not been hampered by our poor reception. Joseph admitted to us after our meal that Ulfius had apologized profusely for his misstep and tried to make amends. It appears, in spite of the coincidence of my prayer and Levi’s sudden recovery, that Vicentius had taken full credit for the cure. This was easier for everyone to believe, especially the physician, who had, after all, tried everything he could think of to help Joseph’s son. For his efforts and Ulfius apparent concern, Joseph was guardedly appreciative. Vicentius would continue to watch over his patient as long as we were guests in the Gaul’s house.
That day, as we began or tour of Massilia and the surrounding countryside—something Joseph believed a good, business-minded host should always do, he whispered into my ear “the man’s honest, but he’s a complete reprobate.”
“He’s trying to make up for it,” I murmured back, as Ulfius gave his coachmen instructions on the road.
“Just the same,” Joseph replied faintly, “I’m very sorry your tender eyes had to suffer those dreadful murals and statuary. I’ve forgotten how tasteless some of these provincials are.”
“I blew out my lamp and slept in the dark,” I whispered, shuddering at the thought.
Joseph chuckled to himself as Ulfius’ climbed into the coach.
While poor Levi recovered at the villa, Matthias sat next to our uncouth host, who already, before the noon hour, stank of wine. In addition to what seemed to be a strong body odor, there was a strange smell radiating from the Druid talisman around his thick neck. Matthias had found someone who irritated him even more than me. For my part, I felt pity for the big, blond Gaul, and realized that, in his own way, he was a better man than the weak willed Publius or, for that matter, the unfriendly Jewish merchant in Egypt, too busy to give us a tour of Alexandria, himself. Ulfius went so far as to take us to the local Jewish rabbi, Abemelech, who proved to be a thoughtful and congenial host, offering us fine kosher food for our mid-day meal. Massilia had little to offer in the way of monuments, temples, and museums, yet it was a beautiful city. The weather had cleared up enough for us to enjoy a walk in the agora, which resembled, Joseph admitted begrudgingly, one he had seen in Greece. Ulfius insisted on buying us sweet meats at the market place, which tasted nothing like the wondrous treats of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Rome. The Gauls placed too much honey in these morsels and not enough of the date or plum’s natural sweetness. Their local food, which was primarily pork, sausages, and sea food, would be almost entirely unpalatable for us, which says much for Ulfius’ efforts this morning in ordering his servants to provide us with cheese, fruits, and freshly baked bread—things he knew we Jews would eat. He apologized for his countrymen’s diet but promised that our evening meal would be lamb, prepared according the Adonijah’s specifications. Of course the Jewish cook Ulfius borrowed from Abemelech would not be here in person, but would present the lamb and side dishes to Ulfius’ servants and instruct them how to cook and prepare the meal, which would include Jewish pastries from the rabbi’s baker.
At this point, even Matthias had to admit that Ulfius, though tasteless in his art and mannerisms, was trying to be a good host. In truth, unless we traveled to the interior of this Roman province, we would not be able to savor the same grandeur we had in Alexandria, Greece, and Roman. When Joseph, who fell into the spirit of things, began expounding upon the religion and culture of ancient Gaul, a country studied by his favorite historian, Herodotus, Ulfius bloodshot eyes lit up. I sensed, as Ulfius called out instructions to his driver, that Joseph’s burst of information was a mistake. Ulfius told the coachman to take the Via Truncata out of town to the priest Vassa’s, house. We didn’t asked him what sort of priest Vassa might be, but, after Joseph’s talk of Gaulish culture, I had a hunch he would be a Druid priest.
When the coach stopped in front of strange-looking hovel that Ulfius identified as Vassa’s abode, we uttered a collective gasp. The home, if that what it truly was, was nothing more than a framework of hides supports by unfinished saplings, with sheets of bark serving as a roof. There were cow, sheep, and deer skulls arrayed around the circumference of the circular structure, and two heathen banners strewn on poles on each side of the entrance, whipping in the morning breeze. After a whistle by the driver, probably a signal to let the priest know that visitors had arrived, a gnarled, white haired old man, with a long scraggly beard, wearing nothing but a loin cloth and long rabbit skin cape scuttled out of the hovel, shaking a long brightly painted pole with animal and bird skulls hanging by string or strips of hide. Muttering incoherently to himself, apparently in his native tongue, he rattled his pole violently, his eyes rolling madly in his misshapen head, his toothless gums jerking up and down, as he did a crotchety, ungraceful little dance. Closer and closer he came to the coach, the hideous specter before us transforming from a harmless old eccentric into a demonic apparition in the eyes of Joseph and his son.
I could imagine the guards’ reactions, though I couldn’t see them as I sat inside the coach, making the sign to ward off the evil eye. Matthias was terrified, as was Joseph, but Ulfius, like our coachman, appeared to be amused by the show. I could hear the driver above us laughing loudly as the Gaul chuckled with mirth. I understood immediately that, like Mariah, the old man’s mind was addled, perhaps by wine or the drugs that rustic priests often use. Stepping out of the coach without hesitation now, I stood before the foul smelling and evil-looking old man, and said but two words: “Be still!” It was as if a voice came out of me which was not my own. The old man cackled and wrung his pole once more at me then fell silent. Pivoting on his bare feet, he disappeared back into the dark abyss from whence he came.
My heart clamored in my chest. I could scarcely breath. A moment of silence followed as the scene registered in Matthias’ mind.
“Are we to believe that Jesus cast out demons now?” he asked, his voice creaking up a notch. “Who does he think he is—Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies?”
“That’s enough.” Joseph flashed him a warning look.
“Incredible!” crowed Ulfius. “I’ve never seen Vassa shut up like that!”
“He bewitched him,” grumbled Matthias.
“Jesus,” Joseph called gently, “get back in the coach. Driver, take us away from this evil place!”
“So that was a Druid priest,” I exclaimed, out of breath. “He gave us all a scare, but I think he’s harmless. I could smell something peculiar on his breath—a drug, perhaps a strong drink. It reminded me of Mariah, a woman who lived in my town.”
Ulfius nodded quietly. Joseph was visibly upset. I felt sorry for the old man. I knew he was touched in the head, but he was also demented by his depraved religion.
“H-How can you be so calm after that?” Matthias sputtered angrily. “You didn’t even pray. You just said ‘Be silent!’ Who are you representing Jesus, God or yourself? Was that some sort of mind trick you played upon that old fool or were you speaking for your father Satan or Beelzebub?”
“That is dreadful!” cried Joseph. “Apologize to Jesus at once or get out of my sight. So help me, you can just walk back to town!”
Before coming to his senses, Joseph throttled his son several times with his fists. Though Matthias had said terrible things, I found myself weeping for what I caused. I imagined that my advocates, Loftus, Strabo, Glychon, and Tycho, might be proud of me, but I was surprised at Ulfius reaction as he tried calming Joseph down.
“Please, my friend,” he said, reaching out to the Pharisee, “this was an ill-conceived detour—all my fault. Fear has twisted Matthias’ tongue. In the old religion, there was a fine line between good and evil. Vassa is a charlatan or insane; he might even really be a Druid priest. The Romans have wiped out the Druid faith because they practiced human sacrifice, and more power to them. Your Jesus demonstrated great power to quieten this man. I can’t believe that’s evil. I agree with Jesus: that man is mad. As a child, I met a Druid priest, but that’s in the north where the old religion’s skulking around. That man was as calm and calculating as a snake. Long ago poor, wretched Vassa lost his mind.”
“I’m sorry,” Joseph muttered to his son.
Matthias nodded obliquely but kept his peace.
“I’m also sorry for how my sons have treated you.” He patted my bowed head.
I looked up tearfully, my throat too constricted to speak. Ulfius bent forward and whispered conspiratorially to me, though all could hear, “If a mere youth has his power, I wonder what kind of god gave it to you. “ ‘Be silent’ can mean many things, Joseph.” He looked up into the Pharisee’s face. “If he’s not simply a charlatan, Vassa could have a demon or be burned out my Gaulish beer and Greek wine, but I’m certain, after what I saw in Levi’s sick room and after hearing Jesus words, that he is either a demigod or something much more.”
“Now, Ulfius, let’s keep our head,” Joseph replied, in a shaken voice, “Jesus never claimed such things. He has a gift for prayer that I believe will one day make him a great teacher of the law or a fine rabbi, but let’s not burden him yet with such thoughts. He’s only a youth!”
“Very well,” Ulfius gave him a reluctant shrug, “but let him find this out for himself. You’ll never convince your guards that he doesn’t have special powers. To them and most of my people he would be considered a great magician if he can bring forth the storm or, as Loftus told my servant, bring a bird back from the dead. Not even a Druid priest can do that!”
The gentle rocking of the Pharisee’s head lead me to believe he understood Ulfius, and yet the Gaul honored his request not to burden me with such thoughts and never brought the subject up again. In spite of the evil pictures and profane statues in his house, Ulfius was a good man. I will offer up a special prayer for him, though I’m not sure if he’ll understand our faith any more than do our guards.
At this point, Papa paused in his reading of Jesus Letter from Gaul to visit the cloaca (the official reason for the delay). We all knew, of course, that he needed a jolt of wine. It was, Joseph muttered to James, the closest Jesus had come to creating a new religion. With Mama frowning down at them, they dare not criticize Jesus out loud, but I have excellent ears and heard it all. I heard James murmur back that it was Joseph of Arimathea’s fault for encouraging this sort of behavior, but Joseph would give Jesus no such excuse. With all his superior wisdom, Joseph whispered heatedly that he should have known better than flaunt his high and mighty ways. After discussing this issue awhile, my brothers discussed Papa’s foolishness. I had heard this before from them: He will never change. Who was he trying to fool? Didn’t he realize we could smell his breath?
Mama cupped her ear to hear what they were saying. “That’s enough whispering,” she snapped irritably. “Papa’s worried sick about Jesus exploits.”
“He has good reason to be worried,” Joseph grumbled under his breath.
If anything, I thought, frowning at my brothers, Papa was worried about Mama’s frame of mind. When he finally returned, he was whistling and humming to himself as he took his place at the head of the table. In spite of his lapse, he looked quite fit. A pleasant grin was flashed to his audience. Perhaps, I told myself, he really had used the cloaca. Mama seemed relieved until he kissed her cheek and raised the scroll up to his eyes.
“Joseph, shame on you,” she scolded him.
“Only a few drops, my dear.” He waved dismissively. “Now where were we before I interrupted myself.”
As he squinted at the parchment, I couldn’t help giggling. Mama, however, was not amused, especially when Papa glanced back at the previous sheet and laughed.
“Jesus has practically made converts of those guards and that lecherous Gaul.” He exclaimed amiably. “We might have another Moses or Elijah in our midst.”
“This is serious,” Mama cried, ringing her hands. “Our son has made an enemy of that Pharisee’s son. These miracles that are happening—the storms, the curing of Joseph’s son, and the casting out of a demon may be impossible for a Pharisee to accept. Matthias has planted the notion in his mind that Jesus’ power comes from the Evil One. All those notions he has about the Gentiles sharing God’s covenant and grace have already made him seem like a heretic in their eyes.”
“I can’t explain the miracles.” Papa shook his head. “Jesus, himself, sees them as merely the result of prayer. In his letter the Pharisee told him that he has God’s ear. Yet those other miracles—the storms and the healing, could almost be seen as coincidences. Storms come and go quickly, and that physician’s potion might just have done the trick.”
“Very well,” Mama said, holding up her hand, “but how do you explain the old man? He did exactly what Jesus said—he shut up.”
“Trick is the operative word.” Joseph gave his brother a sly grin.
Papa looked accusingly at Joseph. “You think Jesus is a trickster? You still don’t realize how special he is. You never have!”
“No,” James spoke up for Joseph, “that’s what Matthias probably thought. I remember you calling the Evil One a trickster, capable of befuddling our minds.”
“It wasn’t a trick.” I jumped up in Jesus defense. “This sounds very much like what Jesus did to Mariah to make her shut her up. He said “be silent” to her too.”
Papa was disarmed by my words, and seemed to have completely forgotten that Joseph once again insulted Jesus good name.
“I can remember when you despised your oldest brother,” he said thoughtfully. “You’ve come a long way Jude. Your memory’s as sharp as a Roman sword. You’ve stored away all of Jesus’ deeds. I just wish your two other brothers had your faith.”
As I listened to Papa extol my virtues as a brother and son, I felt ashamed. His belief that I was loyal, trustworthy and faithful was simply not true. Papa was feeling his wine. Although my appreciation for Jesus had grown since the incident of the sparrow, I felt unworthy of his praise. I write this in retrospect, of course; I was hard on myself back then. Measured against Jesus perfect model, I felt selfish and willful. There were times when I also felt guilty for my lack of faith. No matter how narrow-minded Joseph might be, I didn’t have his faith. He was, I report in my chronicle, a true champion of the old religion, almost until the end. Even as a youth, I sensed that James was gradually changing his views about Jesus. Occasionally he might defend Joseph’s outbursts, but he couldn’t escape the truth. Everyone that witnessed Jesus miracles, including Joseph, himself, were permanently effected by what they had seen.
Torn between her fear for Jesus and Papa’s drinking habits, Mama gave him a nudge and handed him the unfinished scroll. As he resumed his narration, I noticed that Nehemiah was still sound asleep. No one thought this was peculiar. He had always been a sleepy little fellow, so we let him continue his nap, not realizing that he was very sick.
As Papa read the remainder of the scroll, his eyes began to droop and his voice grew progressively hoarse. About mid-way during the reading, James volunteered to take over, and it was Papa who fell asleep. He had read us the most important, if not the most interesting, part of Jesus’ trip. Jesus wrote only briefly about the remainder of his visit to Gaul, although it should have been considered a highlight of his stay in Gaul. This brevity wasn’t because he wasn’t enthusiastic or excited about his adventures. He simply didn’t consider it as important as his religious experiences and reflections on things. Loftus taught him how to ride a Gaulish stallion, so Jesus and the guards rode around the countryside, remaining within the boundaries of Massilia. The pagan temples they passed by during their visit were so much like the other temples seen in Greece and Rome, he gave scant attention to them. The mixture of peoples in Massilia—Greeks, Romans, Germani, Jews, and native Gauls reminded us of all the other cities in the empire. To sum it up, there was not much left to tell—at least in Jesus’ opinion.
When James had finished his shorter portion of the letter, he frowned but, like the rest of us, took it in stride. Mama was only surprised with his brief message at the end of the scroll, “Until my trip to Cyrene, I bid my family farewell. Love, your son and brother, Jesus.” We were more concerned that Papa was sleeping in the middle of the day.
“Papa, wake up!” Mama shook him gently. “You have a table to finish.”
“Whazzamattah.” He rose up groggily. “What happened to Jesus exploits?”
“James finished them for you.” She socked him playfully. “You promised not to drink anymore wine.”
“Sorry,” he muttered, looking down at the scroll. “. . . . I wished Jesus would come home.”
We remained silent this time. No one disagreed with Papa. In the past we might have made some sort of comment to what he said. After Jesus trips in Egypt, Greece and Rome, there had been lively conversation and some complaints about his exploits. Decreasingly, however, after each succeeding letter, our comments became fewer and fewer. What could anyone say about this member of our family not already said? Jesus introduced so many controversial ideas it was difficult to remember them all. He had forsaken storytelling for preaching, stopping frequently to make a point. I was disappointed that he didn’t view an adventure as I viewed it. Traveling should be exciting, not merely illuminating as he thought. Not yet eleven years old, I still wasn’t certain what illumination meant, but it didn’t sound like much fun. Even when he described an interesting place or event, there was not enough detail given. He knew how much I wanted to see the world, and yet he glossed over the wonders of Egypt and Greece in order to expound upon his religious views. Though he did, in fact, give us details about Roman buildings, this great city, like the others, was but a backdrop for his thoughts. Judged by most of his last letter, it appeared as if Massilia was just another provincial city full of fine buildings like the capitol, merely on a smaller scale. Even now, as I consider the opportunities he squandered, I’m baffled by his modesty and unwillingness to expound upon the adventures of a sea voyage or the mysteries of the surrounding terrain. He knew I loved horses, and yet he gave but a few lines about his ride through the Gaulish countryside. Though I have a good idea now of what Gaul looked like, I learned precious little from Jesus about that strange land. I remember Papa claiming that the Gauls were once mighty warriors until the Romans came along. Except for those few lines about horse riding, however, the trip they took to visit the old Druid priest was the only real adventure Jesus explained.
I didn’t understand that Jesus was discovering himself: his godhood and powers. Because of this, everything else was second to him in importance. All I could think then was the opportunities of observation he wasted, when, in fact, as I re-read Jesus’ letters, which Papa left to me, I realize that, like my family, I was a witness to his spiritual growth. How blind I was as a child!