However his name was pronounced, the Patriarch Yosef, son of the Patriarch Jacob, had not been forgotten. Mizraim too, revived by the Red Star, would again know his painful footsteps as events brought him forth once again on the stage of human destiny. But in this repeat performance, his predecessor would be none other than Yeshua the Messiah (his name Hellenized and Romanized later to Jesus), a strange turn of events, it would seem. Yet to the participants, it would not appear that way. With their ancient Jewish memory, they would see Joseph as Yeshua’s predecessor, even though this was on Atlantis, hardly the Middle East where Yeshua had been born and lived and crucified thousands of years before the Re-Location of Earth!
Atlantis? No one on it knew it, so the fact was beside the point to its occupants. Just the same, the first Atlantis would rise in unexpected ways to reassert its former glories upon the clay of human impression, leaving an indelible mark that would influence the coming ages of mankind in the struggle to hold Earth against the alien stars. And it so happened that a lone carpenter from Nazareth was fated to receive that impression--humble in trade, perhaps, but royal-blooded, a descendant along with Maryam of the Royal House of David-Elhanan the great giant-slayer, from whose line God promised to bring forth the Messiah.
Who again? Yosef Bar-Yacob--the same that was betrothed to Maryam, a daughter of two aged parents who did not live to see her happily married. But Maryam had other problems that made the loss of her parents insignificant. She had conceived a child out of wedlock, so to speak, but while betrothed (formally engaged) to Yosef. And Yosef knew the Child was not his, and yet was convinced what Maryam told him was somehow true. If he had not believed her, he could have put her away, and even had her stoned for adultery under the terms of the Law of Moses. But he knew Maryam since early childhood, and a childhood playmate who did not tell lies could be trusted. If she said the Spirit of the Most High God had overshadowed her and conceived a holy Savior in her, then Maryam was telling the absolute truth. How could he think otherwise, knowing her as well as he did?
So what to do now? They had gone to Bethlehem, to pay the imperial head tax imposed by Caesar, and there the Child of the Most High was born in difficult circumstances, in a cave used by shepherds as a stable. Pressed with visitors who paid better than Yosef and his bride could afford, no one would take them in, not their relatives in town, nor even the inn. They were fortunate to have the shepherd’s cave as a shelter. Then, when the town lost most of its visitors and prices went down and things loosened up a bit in lodgings, they rented a house from a now friendly relative with a promise to pay when they could afford it, and lived there until the astonishing appearance of magi from the East who came bearing gifts to the King of the Jews, whose star they said they saw in the East. The mysterious Star led them to Bethlehem and stood over the house where Maryam and Yosef lived.
After worshiping and presenting gifts to the Child, the magi departed on their camels, and life then became very dangerous, for King Herod was on the throne, and he too was "seeking the newborn King of the Jews."
Why should this matter to the House of David, which both Maryam and Yosef represented, being royal-blooded. Not only was a usurper on the throne of David--this foreign, heathen king from Idumea--but he was the one called "The Great." It was not a specimen of idle flattery. He gathered immense riches and then built colossal structures--fortresses, palaces, all suspended high in the air on cliffs or mountaintops (there were none higher than his in the Roman empire), and added to that gleaming marble-lined ports that ranked with the greatest engineering projects in the world, with his final crowning achievement being the Second Temple, rebuilt on his command without sparing expense or effort. It was not finished as yet, but already the whole civilized world looked toward Jerusalem where a greater structure than the pyramids of Giza was rapidly taking shape.
Herod suffered no possible threat to his rule and throne; he slaughtered even his own family, including wives and sons, lest they murder him first.
Such was the beast who had his sights on the Messiahship, and Yosef and Maryam's lives, insignificant as they may have seemed to themselves, could not fail to draw his close attention now that they had produced a possible successor to himself.
But even with his worries about Herod, there was opportunity to think of someone else. Yosef found plenty time to think about the youth who had gone down to the land of bondage before his people--the first Yosef, his ancient namesake and forefather! They were much the same age, or maybe the first Yosef was a little younger.
Yet Yosef noted the important differences. He was married to a young woman, who, though not beautiful and with scarcely any dowry, seemed fit and loving enough for a man of Israel. If she had a fault, it might be her keeping silent so much of the time as if she were pondering things in her secret mind. The first Yosef, however, had no such advantage as a helpmate until considerable years had passed. And he was a slave, made one by his brother’s treacherous, cruel act of selling him into the hand of idolatrous Ishmaelites who were trading for slaves in preparation for going down to Mizraim to sell them. What a terrible crime for holy sons of Jacob to sell their own flesh and blood to the uncircumcised traders! It was unthinkable, yet they had done it to their poor young brother, the first Yosef.
How could Joseph not bitterly hate his brothers? How could he have forgiven them, when later they came down begging to buy grain for their household, since whole land was caught in the lion’s mouth of famine and drought? Why hadn’t he taken revenge, when he held a power second only to Per-aa, being his chief minister, the Grand Taty?
No rabbi at the synagogue school he had attended in Nazareth had ever explained this mystery. How could a man so sinned against forgive the wrong-doers? It simply wasn’t natural, how Joseph had reacted. Good and reasonable religion, the rabbis all taught, demanded that the victim hold the wrong-doer strictly accountable for all offenses and charged the victim not to forgive until he was given ample signs the wrong-doer had repented and experienced a change of heart. That of course meant that one’s enemies must come begging on their hands and knees for forgiveness, pledging to make full restitution! To forgive anyone before this took place was criminal negligence and disrespect towards the Holy Law, the rabbis taught.
Now that the journey to Mizraim, taking them past sights Joseph must certainly have set eyes upon, triggered his memories of the accounts he, with other boys, had studied for long hours at school beneath the sycamore tree in the synagogue garden, Yosef felt he had to get an answer to the questions that ran back and forth in his mind.
The seemingly endless stretches of flat, stone-scabbed dry lands and then mountainous mounds of sand blocking their path as if to swallow them up, all this dreariness made his questions seem all the more urgent. He walked, sweated, slept, drank, and rose up thinking of the first Yosef.
Finally, he could bear it no longer. Swallowing manly pride (for he had been schooled in the synagogue, and Maryam his wife had not, being a female), Yosef turned to her.
“Yosef, the son of our beloved Forefather, my own father’s holy Namesake, must have trod these same stones and sands on the way to bondage in the house of Potiphar,” Yosef ventured, looking into her bowed face as she rode the mule, keeping her watch over the child who rode with her.
“Yes, husband,” she agreed, though it was only an exhausted murmur.
Disappointed, he kept on. “It is important that we remember this, and tell the Child about it, lest the story be lost to his generation. That is why I mentioned him to you.”
Maryam said nothing.
Yosef was annoyed at himself. He had meant no such thing. What he really wanted to know, well, how could he ask a woman such a thing? Women were, like Maryam, good for bearing and tending children and looking after their husbands’ needs, but were unfitted for high religious questions. So who else could he ask? Who? He had been forced to leave his people and flee alone with her and the Child, lest the word get out to Herod and he send soldiers on horseback to intercept and arrest them.
Worry about Herod’s spies strung out along the main travel routes was not his only concern. Any public travel was hazardous without a caravan’s armed company for protection, and Yosef found little opportunity to entertain theological questions, despite all the time on his hands. If falling into the clutches of Herod was not enough, scorpions, extremes of heat and cold, robbers and brigands, cutthroats even, abounded along the Track to Lower Mizraim since so many valuable goods travelled that way, and the strain of all this furrowed his handsome forehead prematurely.
One day they were in sight of an oasis, when Maryam spoke up clearly and as if she were not weary to the bone.
“No, we must go beyond this place, and find a way around it so they will not see us.”
Yosef was surprised, he was counting on spending the night there, with plenty of grass and water for the beast, and a chance of human company too, which was very appealing after spending two full days without sight of a single soul.
“I was warned in a dream, that there would come a place like this, and we should not go in to rest in it.”
Yosef gulped, and made no argument. He had experienced several such dreams, when angels came to speak warnings to him and tell him what he should do.
Quickly, with his stick, he headed their beast up and away from sight of the oasis. This time the beast made no protest and did as he was directed.
But where would they find water and provision for the night now? he wondered, dismayed. All around them stretched a burning inferno of scorched rock mountains,not a tree in sight, not even a single spring or watering hole. They were off the track, too, which meant they might lose their way and wander into blind canyons that could swallow them up without a trace. Yosef feared such places. That is why travellers, despite the robbers who lay in wait, preferred the open, public Track of the Caravans to forging new trails.
“What are those? “ Maryam asked. She saw trenches running like the fingers of a hand on the slopes, all connected with a single channel that in turn connected with a white-colored cleft in the hills. These fingered trenches ran through patches of soil cleared of stones.
Joseph, knowing the things men know, was ready with an answer. “The Streams of the South, they are dry for years, but when a rain does come, the people direct it into their fields this way. The patches of ground are kept cultivated and seeded, and when the rain comes, the farmer hopes to find a wheat he can harvest after he waits for it to grow. It may be a long time, and he may have to seed again and again, before--”
His voice trailed off, he really wasn’t interested in the local, desert agriculture which existed more on stubborn enduring hope than anything else. It was as he had feared. He found they were heading up a walled, dry steambed, and the sides of the gorge increased in height with each step until they were lost between the rocks. He grew frightened and wanted to turn around and head back, but Maryam shook her head when he started to turn the mule’s head.
By this time the Child was wanting to get down from the long ride on the mule, and Maryam said, “It won’t be but a few feet beyond here, where we can rest.”
Yosef’s eyes turned up in their sockets. How could she know what lay ahead?
Yet they took a few feet more, and the rock walls suddenly widened out into a huge bowl-shaped valley all surrounded by high rock walls. And what was that--green grass and pools of water? Had rain from a solitary cloudburst fallen in this spot recently, just enough to make it spring to life? Hearing the vast congregation of frogs singing, he knew the scene could not be eye-trickery caused by heat.
In the drawing dusk, the dense, green grass and palm trees looked like paradise to Yosef, and he left the mule and his family and ran to find out for himself.
He dashed down to the first pool, swept it with his hand, dashed some on his face and beard, and shouted a praise to God. Newly-hatched butterflies in their thousands, startled, rose up in clouds all around him, and the joyously-chorusing frogs went suddenly silent.
Then, red, gold, and blue, Joseph-Coat Butterflies clinging to his head and hair, he ran back to Maryam, who was smiling as she stood, holding Yeshua’s hand and watching him.
With the whole place to themselves, they rested very well in the hidden valley though the frogs sang the whole night long.
The next morning, however, Yosef’s brow furrowed again. Yes, he had slept well, bathed, and the family had eaten, and it was time to go, but where? Out the same way they had come? That would put them back in the spot they had been warned to avoid!
“There is another way out from here,” Maryam remarked, as if she divined his thoughts and misgivings.
“Where? How do you know?” he expostulated.
She simply raised her hand and pointed the direction.
Shaking his head, Yosef was sure she had been touched with too much heat in her head, but he headed the mule in that direction once she had mounted with the Child.
Yet when they reached the wall of rock, and then climbed up to it, Yosef found a crack where none had appeared visible a short distance away.
Marvelling, he led the mule in, and then the crack widened, and it became a sandy path between walls of stone that reach far up overhead, nearly shutting out the blue sky. Walking in the shadow was pleasant and cooling, and it was hard to step out into the crackling heat when the path ended abruptly, setting them in the open.
Yosef squinted, peering at the panorama ahead. Sand mountains to the right, stretching toward the horizon where something glittered like molten metal--was it the Great Sea? The stone-scabbed, soda and salt flatlands to the left. In between the Track of the Caravans winding like a pale, brown ribbon between the yellowish scablands and the sand mountains.
Puffs on the ribbon meant caravans. The whole scene sloped from where they stood, like a vast tilted tableland. And with his good eyes, he could see something else. The Track divided, into three that turned toward three quarters of the horizon.
He had heard talk about this part of the Track that was coming. If they took the Upper Way, after the Division, then they would be going to Ibbatha. If they took the Middle Way, they would land at--at--he forgot.
It was a royal city where Joseph had lived in a palace, that is all he knew. But the one they sought was the closest, at the terminus of the Way Track, by the glittering strip of what looked like silver which had to be the Great River, Ioteru, where it joined the Great Sea. That was the Delta-land, and they would pass right through Goshen, the ancient, grassy lodging place of the People of Israel when they abode in Mizraim with their flocks and cattle as guests of the Per-aa and later for three hundred years labored in sore distress as slaves after per-aas arose who did not remember Joseph and despised and feared his people.
Excited to know his whereabouts, Yosef turned to Maryam, but she was amusing the Child with an eagle feather, and paid him no attention when he tried to explain the geography.
Finally, getting nowhere, he gave up, and started the mule off down the slope toward the Track.
Going slow to make the journey comfortable to his wife and the Child, Yosef grew very impatient, nevertheless. He really wanted to get the pilgrimage over as soon as possible, now that he saw the destination within reach. Sore in foot, oppressed by concerns for his family, walking the first Yosef's trail of tears wasn’t all that pleasant!
Now and then, when his concerns and worries got too much for him, he flicked the mule’s behind with his stick just to get a bit more speed on, but he didn’t dare do too much of that, for the beast had showed he had a mind of his own. If mistreated, he was liable to sit down, and go nowhere for several hours! Fleeing Herod’s army of spies and forts full of armed men and chariots, Yosef couldn’t afford to anger the only transportation they had!
It took hours, but they reached the Division where the Caravan Track forked into three new Ways. Proud of his handling of the matter, he turned right onto the Lower, the Way of Avaris, without consulting Maryam. What did a woman know about such matters anyway? he thought, pleased with his knowledge of this foreign country.
Finally, after an hour or two, Maryam asked that they be allowed to retire for the night. Yosef, tired, but still excited, agreed, and he led them off a ways from the Track, found a secluded spot behind some dusty thornbushes, and tied the mule. There wasn’t any grass there, but at least the mule could nibble the small leaves on the thornbush if it was careful about the thorns. That would have to do until they reached the River, which was a full day’s trek away, he estimated.
As for water, they had plenty, since he had filled a waterskin at the hidden valley. Taking the rug from the mule, spreading it for Maryam and the Child, Yosef lay down on his own robe, and waited for Maryam to finish feeding the Child before they two ate their dinner of some dried figs and bread. There wasn’t much food left in the bag, but it would be enough for the last leg of the trip, Yosef saw. Maybe they could afford to give a morsel to the mule too. He took a bit and handed it to the beast, which took it, rolling its upper lip over it, while delicately snatching the tidbit with huge, powerful teeth.
Yosef laughed. “Like that, do you?”
The mule stretched out his neck, but Yosef shook his head. “No, that’s all! That will have to do you for the rest of the trip! So don’t be begging me!”
Maryam took the Child, wrapped him in her own robe, and lay down with him.
Yosef, standing and gazing at them, then decided to follow, and he lay down. It was still hot, but the blazing sky soon darkened, and the coolness came swiftly. Not long after Yosef knew he had to rise and make a fire. It would keep off the chill, and not only the cold but the wild things that would be coming out to hunt in the night. The lions were big and very fierce, able to attack and kill a mule or a man, and there were night-roving packs of hyenas and other beasts that would be dangerous, if they came upon their little camp. A firebrand, thrust at them, would make them leave them alone. Unfortunately, the fire might also draw robbers and murderers. But it could not be helped.
Maryam’s eyes opened and she watched him make a fire. She called out.
Yosef went to find out what she wanted.
“Please make three big fires tonight, husband. “
Astonished, he could not believe it. “What?”
“Yes, for the robbers. They will think we are a larger company than we are, and will not bother us tonight. They are looking for single, little fires and will go by our camp.”
Shaking his head at the wisdom that this young wife possessed, for what she said made good sense for a woman, Yosef prepared two more fires, and was kept awake most of the evening feeding them with thornbush branches.
After a while, Maryam called to him. “That’s enough. Let the other two die, and keep the one going. The robbers have passed.”
Having seen and heard nothing, Yosef shook his head, but he followed her words, and let two fires burn down. Gathering a big pile of thornbush, he set it down by their remaining fire, and then retired for the night. It was relatively easy now to keep the one fire going. When he felt chilled, that meant to throw on some more fuel. And the cold was deep enough now to wake him whenever he needed to replenish the fire.
The night with its robbers passed, and they awoke safe and refreshed in the morning. Then Yosef, with a jolt, recalled a strange dream just as he picked up a half-burnt thornbush twig and was about to stick it with some ground soil in his mouth to scrub his teeth. He had dreamed and seen two, unevenly-cut and twisted boards set crosswise together on a stone-crowned hill.
“A Roman crucifixion!” he thought. Greedy, power-hungry Romans had taken over the whole world, mighty Mizraim included. But where were the crossed-beams set, and why had he dreamed it? He had no idea as he scrubbed at his teeth, then took a squirt from the waterskin. When everything was gathered in his mouth, he spat. Once he spat in defiance of the Roman oppressors of his nation. A second rinse, and he spat again for Herod the Edomite tyrant whom the Romans had installed over Holy Israel.
A day’s journey farther, they reached Avaris, formerly the capital of the country under the foreign kings’ dynasties during the the first part of the life of the first Yosef. They went immediately to the main market and asked about at shops with Jewish proprietors. In short order they were directed to the quarter of the city where most of the people of the Diaspora resided. It was only a stone’s throw from the market, of course, since many Jews were shopkeepers. Finding that no place with mezzuzahs would open doors to their knocking, since by their appearance they were strangers, they returned to the market and Yosef made further inquiries.
“Just like the inns of Bethlehem!” grumbled Yosef.
In a shop of a sandals-maker and other leather goods, the weary and angry Yosef found success. The tradesman was just then showing his wares to a rich Jew, Diomedes Bar-Mattaniah, who owned properties throughout the city and even estates in the environs.
The rich man, hearing Yosef’s countrified accent, was amused and turned to see what Yosef wanted.
“Yosef Bar-Yacob, sir. I am looking for work,” Yosef replied bluntly, not sure how to bow before one so perfumed and finely-robed.
The rich man stood up from his chair, took a few turns in his customized sandals, which had been gilded especially for his satisfaction, and glanced down at Yosef’s travel-dusted clothes and dirty feet. But even in such condition, Yosef was a fine young man in appearance, and the rich man could see that without difficulty. He clapped a fat, soft hand on Yosef’s hard, solid shoulder. Good for you! We need good strong Jewish arms and backs like yours, able to do an honest day’s work, without sneaking off into the shade like these wretched heathen Mizraimites before noon has even waxed hot! You’re just the thing I need, as a matter of fact! I’ve got three latrines to be dug, barns and stables to be cleaned, canals to be dredged, and many fields to be hoed and weeded--then when that’s done, there’s--”
The man paused, his eyes, lined in the Mizraimite style with kohl, gleamed. “But first the latrines and stables! Of course, the pay is slight for so young a man as yourself, you understand. Yet it will keep you and a little buxom wife and maybe a child or two--though you won’t want girls, they can be sold in the market anytime--then, if you plant a garden and do some fishing on the side, you should be able to put enough food in your bellies. No Jew need ever starve here in this rich country, if he willing to work and be sensible about lodgings--its always warm here, not like the Old Country, you’ll need just some walls with a piece of old cloth stretched across the top for a roof to keep the birds from dropping on your head while you sport with your little wife on the floor! Why, when my father and uncles and I left that dunghole of Hebron and started out here thirty years ago--”
Yosef, needing to cut the interview short for the sake of his weary wife and the Child, raised his hand and smiled. “Thank you, most gracious sire! But I will do my father’s trade. I can work all kinds of wood and stone, making many useful things, and can build houses. I do not know the brick you have here, but I can learn from someone.”
The rich man took back his hand as if scorched. He appeared to think the young man was presumptious, for he smiled and began talking again with a manner used for children. “Oh, that’s fine, wanting to do a trade. But we have such trades here in too great an abundance, and they are weak in patrons. The Romans take so much in taxes, that few can afford their services. They won’t want you to wrestle the bread from their good Jewish mouths and the mouths of their wives and little ones. No, forget your trade, my boy, and be sensible and come work for me as a hireling.
Yosef smiled again, determinedly. He even bowed, since the man was so much older. “Thank you for your generous offer, sir! But I will work at my father’s trade here too. It is what I know. A man has a right to do whatever his father has trained him to do. As for the others here, they will just have to make room for us. I promise before God not to take more than a fair share of the trade, in order to keep me and my wife and little one. We ask nothing more than God’s blessing on honest labor and honest prices.”
The rich man frowned and showed he could not believe his ears. “God? You speak of God and business? God is in the Temple at Jerusalem--what does He have her in the market of Avaris to concern His holiness with? But--but--where is your shop? Where are your tools, my boy? Where are the means by which you, a mere sweet-cheeked youth, think to embark upon so considerable an undertaking in our midst? Such foolishness, good people, in the young folk nowaday! Why, he even thinks Almighty God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses our forefathers, is here in our midst and in our markets and shops! Have you ever heard such a thing before?”
The rich man turned to the crowd that had collected to hear him, and to them he spread his hands in mock disbelief, creating quite a stir of amazement, that any young stranger could be so presumptious and bold as to drag the Rock of Israel, the Holy One, down from his Temple in Jerusalem to the flies and dirt and stink of the markets of heathen Avaris.
Yosef bowed, and let the slighting remarks pass. He colored somewhat in his cheeks, but he held his ground. “You would not speak so lightly of us, sir, if you knew we have means God provided,” he said politely, bowing again and moving away.
“Did you hear that?” someone remarked. “He names the Holy One again in connection with his common personal affairs! What impiety!”
And what means, pray tell? They look like wastrels and mendicants to my eye!” a woman observed tartly. “Weren’t they just a bit ago knocking on my door to beg for a crust of bread? Why, the cheek of them, begging from good, hard-working people who have to sweat for every bit of bread and leek and garlic!”
“I don’t care if they do claim to be Jewish, it isn’t the way to act here, and the sooner they learn it, the better!” someone called out for them to hear. “God is in His holy Temple, and we are His people, and this city and all its heathen idols are damned forever to be punished in Gehenna’s fires--that is the truth! Where did these newcomers get such crazy ideas as to think Almighty God follows meekly them around place to place and looks after them? That is ridiculous! God has more important things to do than waste his time with the common likes of them!”
Keeping his anger to himself, though his ears stung, Yosef took his mule, and Maryam and the Child, and went in seach of living and working quarters, since no one would open a door to them temporarily.
The moment after Yosef swung apart the big wooden doors on his shop in Carpenter Street, a woman in a ragged scarf and patched robe poked her head in. “Aha! You don’t recognize me, I suppose!” she cried.
Yosef looked at her, but couldn’t tell. Maryam, sitting on a small stool with the Child, seemed to recoil. But she recovered and rose, bowing. She went to the woman, offering her hand and leading her into the shop to the solitary stool so she could sit. The visitor ignored the stool, the only chair on the premises.
“No mezzuzah, eh? Isn’t this a good Jewish shop? You need a mezzuzah,or you’re flying in God’s face like a idol-worshiping heathen, like the Gentile heathen all around us in this wicked country. I’ll make a gift of one, if you can’t afford it, just to show that I take good care of my blood kin. It is cracked a little, but good enough for you young people--”
The visitor rattled on this vein as Maryam tried to get a word in to explain to Yosef this was her Aunt Noahdiah, Abagtha’s daughter. Now this woman was screamingly rich, and Maryam knew she cared nothing for the poor, using them whenever she could for her own enrichment. Not content with a huge dowry given her by a father in his dotage, Abagtha’s daughter could not find any man willing to share her bed as her husband, so she traded for a while in Roman commodities and shipping and more than trebled her dowry. When she did land a husband, he was not much in the way of manliness, but at least he would go along with the arrangements she set for him in her household. Unfortunately, childlessness did not help their relations. The fellow looked less happy every year, and seem to be shrink too more and more into his vigorous wife’s shade. She thought nothing of leaving him home for long periods and going to see her business investments in Caesarea, Antioch, Alexandria, and even Rome.
Maryam knew all this, but had hardly wanted to tell Yosef, since his acquaintance with her was so slight, and the memory of her aunt was hardly pleasant. She knew something else, that her aunt had once schemed to get control of her away from her aged parents, and that meant she would have suffered like other maidservant Noahdiah employed, working day after day at the hardest chores, without pay, until they ran off out of desperation with Ishmaelite traders. One hopeless maidservant had even thrown herself off the cliff just beyond Nazareth’s synogogue--and recovered, but unfortunately without her wits from that day on.
The aunt walked about as she talked, eyeing every item as if to estimate its market value.
Noahdiah, fingering Yosef’s tools, turned to Maryam with a sharp rebuke. “Aha, I found you! You ran off from Nazareth, you naughty wild thing, and had this--this wild olive of yours and--and--whoever the father may be, God only knows--and thought to escape from the great scandal you brought to our holy family by running even further, to an idol-worshiping, foreign country like this! But you see, it can’t be done! I hear everything that goes on with our people. And the moment I heard you arrived I came down straightway from Alexandria to see what you two were up to! After all, despite what you did, you are blood kin to me and my beloved father! I have my good name to consider!”
Finished with Maryam, she turned to Yosef. “And you--son of Yacob! Handy with tools, are you not? But like a wild ass in heat you can’t hold your own back--not even for the marriage day! Aha! Begetting is really your trade, I see! What little else you can do is yet to be seen!”
Yosef, his ears stinging from her inferences, looked to Maryam for some sign that he could put the woman out, but Maryam looked down and did not show anything but submission to the older woman.
Satisfied by the effect of her rebukes of the errant young couple, Noahdiah relented a bit, and smiled for the first time. “Oh, my dear, don’t look so glum. Things will improve for you by and by, if you mind the business properly. I just came to see if there was anything you needed that I could help you with.”
Maryam seemed now to be more upset by her aunt’s sweet turn than her cutting words. “Oh, no, thank you, dear Auntie,” she hastened to say. “It is so kind of you to offer, but my husband is good to think of everything, and the Lord has provided for our needs, as you can see. We have this shop, with the room above, and a little yard in back for baking our bread, and I can even keep a few small cattle and grow some things too besides.”
But the aunt was not listening to this, for she was moving out, having lost interest in improving the world that day.
Yosef, alarmed, had to say something. “Excuse me, good aunt, but those new Roman plummets, you’ve taken my only pair, and I shall need them for--”
Noahdiah, opening her hand, looked at the plummets with disgust, and threw them on the ground. “I forgot I had them! Take them then! Doesn’t anyone in this younger generation respect a mother of Israel nowadays? What a way to address me, as if I am a common thief!”
Then she was gone, as swiftly as she had come. Would they see her again? It wasn't a pleasant prospect dealing with blood kin such as Aunt Noadiah. The most they could hope was that she would return to Nazareth shortly, sparing them any more confrontations. Yosef couldn't help but wish for this very thing to happen.
Yosef shot a glance at Maryam, and the reproach he thought might be there was not there, and he sighed. A slight smile showed on Maryam’s face, and he felt even better.
But there was work to be done, interrupted by the uninvited aunt.
Yosef grabbed a saw, but he made a mistake with it on the wood, he had been put so out of temper by the visitor. “That old thief, if she comes here again and steals--”
Maryam gave him a look that made him stop short, it was so full of hurt. “Now, husband, we must bless her and not curse, so that her heart is touched, bringing the needed change. That is God’s way.”
Yosef shook his head, and was about to add a remark or two, but Maryam was not given to argue with her husband, and she turned to her own duties with the Child. Yosef, eyeing them, gave up trying to make his point, and continued working to get his shop ready for the day’s patrons. Before he had finished setting out his tools and began the first item to draw attention, a man stepped forward tot he threshhold.
“Whatever you’re making, it’s not needed here!” he announced rudely. “There isn’t enough trade for you and me and the others. We are scarcely able, even now in the best times, scarcely able to put daily bread in the mouths of our wives and little ones! Why not move to Alexandria? It is much greater city, and wealthier than this city. You will starve here! But there milk and honey will flow like a river, and --”
“No,” Yosef cut in, “this is the place for us. The angel--”
Maryam’s warning cluck of the tongue stopped Yosef just in time. The angel in the dream, warning Yosef that Herod would try to kill the Child, and telling them to flee to Mizraim, telling about the angel was not a good idea at all. The man might even be a spy for Herod.
The man looked at Yosef sharply.
“What I meant is,” Yosef started over, “we cannot go wandering the wide earth. This is a big city. I believe God Almighty will help us in our business. I will ask Him in prayers to provide for us as well as for you, my brother!”
Ignoring Yosef’s smile and outstretched hand, the rival carpenter took a quick, scornful look around at the shop, hardly seeing Maryam and the Child, and then showed his heel to Yosef. “I cannot stop you,” he said with eyes gleaming with anger. “I know you are making a mistake you will regret, but you’ll have to come to your senses the hard way, when no patrons come your way. What will you do then? When your little one goes without food? Don’t say I didn’t warn you, you stubborn, young fool!”
The carpenter stomped off. Now, with two unwelcome visits and their rebukes, this proved upsetting to Yosef. But Maryam’s voice cut into his tumbling thoughts and feelings, casting away the darkness.
“Never mind the man and his words,” the perspicacious Maryam said in a low voice. “He will be back later and speak differently.”
And so it was! A few days later, he came with another man Yosef hardly recognized the rival, for he was smiling this time and offering his outstretched hand.
He introduced the Alexandrian businessman. Yosef bowed, seeing the fine robe the man was wearing meant he might make an expensive order, or even ask him to come and build for him.
“I have some work for you, Yosef Bar-Yacob,” the Alexandrian said, holding Yosef’s hand. “It is a delight to hear about you. I am so glad I was able to find--er, locate someone like you with the talents that will be needed for the project I am considering.”
“Just what would you have me do?” Yosef asked, for he was a practical man, and got to the point quickly.
The man waved his hand and smiled so much his gold teeth glinted. “Oh, that can wait! I will come again tomorrow, and go over all the details with you. Today I am too busy, and must go. But I will see you tomorrow.”
The men left, and Yosef stood pondering his good fortune. He had opened his shop only a few days, and already an important customer had come. It could open the way for much business in the fture, if he pleased the man, he thought.
He turned to Maryam to express his pleasing thought when he noticed her troubled eyes.
“What is wrong now? Is the Child ill?”
She glanced quickly over at the Child napping on a rug, and shook her head. “No, but I do not have a good feeling about our visitors. Something is not right.”
Yosef rubbed his balding head. What could be wrong?
He turned to his work, but a nagging thought kept coming? What if she was right? But what could it be?
“Hold the shop for me, and tell anyone I will be right back. I will go to the brother down the street who brought us the Alexandrian.”
He ran quickly to the carpenter. The man was surprised to see him.
Yosef got to the point. “How did the Alexandrian find you? Did you know him before from doing business for him?”
“No,” the carpenter said. “He seemed to be looking for you first, and stopped by to ask at my shop, so I told him, and he asked for me to lead him to you. I hope he comes back as he said. Maybe he will want work from me too! After all, I lead him to you, so you might send some trade my way for the favor I did you!”
Yosef nodded his head distractedly, his thoughts whirling. “Yes, yes, I’ll surely do that, my friend. But how would he know about me, if he is a stranger? I know no one in Alexandria.”
A chill stole into his breast, settling in the pit of his heart, for he now knew they could be in trouble from some source, unknown to him.
“And did he say anything more?” he pressed his fellow carpenter. “I must know everything he said.”
“Only he was in business supplying caravans, and happened to hear a woman of business speak your name, a kinsman of hers whom she wished him to do business with, just so he paid her first so she could collect a debt owed her.”
Something like an arrow pierced Yosef’s dark foreboding. It made his knees weak for a moment.
“ A woman with a kinsman? What was she? Her name, did he give it?” “Let go! People are looking our way! I’ll tell you, if I can. Why are you so upset?”
Shocked at himself, Yosef found he had grabbed the man’s robe at the neck.
The carpenter stepped back, shaking his head. “You’re a strange one! You act so meek one moment, and then the next you’re attacking me! Well, just to get you out of my hair, I’ll tell you. The woman’s name was Hoah--no, not that. It went Noah--and I forget the rest.”
Yosef spun away, running up the street, leaving the carpenter staring after him with open mouth.
He burst into the shop, his eyes darting like dark butterflies. He grabbed a big leather bag and stuffed in some small tools. His wife looked at him with mild alarm. “What is wrong? What did he say to you, to make you act this way?”
Yosef, his eyes showing regret and disgust, spat, “Abagtha’s daughter! She gave us away to Herod’s spy! For that is what he must have been! We must leave immediately.”
Saying this, he closed the doors of the shop and bolted them. Mary did not protest. She knew she must take the Child and go with her husband.
They could have left then, but it was daylight, and everything was too visible. Waiting in their upper room until it was late, only then did they creep down to the back yard, saddle the mule and then head out of the city by taking the back alleys. They passed few people, only some beggars and some homeless people who slept in doorways.
It was dangerous even on the big public roads, but they had no choice. Fortunately, in Mizraim, the moon was especially large and bright, and there were no hills to obscure its light. If they saw someone coming on the road, they could dart off to the side and hide amongst trees and thick bulrushes which grew everywhere the farmers did not root them out.
In this way they made their exit of Avaris, without anyone calling the alarm on them.
Yosef trudged alongside the mule that carried his wife, the Child, and a few precious tools he had managed to carry along. They had lost their shop and lodgings, and the big tools, which meant a loss of half their treasure. But there was no choice. They could not take the chance the Alexandrian was a spy. He would return, if he was, with Herod’s men, and the Child would be slain on the spot, just like the ones Yosef and Maryam had just heard were slain by Herod’s soldiers in Bethlehem.
Other than losing their investment, Yosef gave no thought for Avaris. It would never be a place dear to his heart. After all, it had been the scene of Joseph’s first bondage in Mizraim. There the first Yosef had labored as the slave to Potiphar, though he had risen in the ranks to Potiphar’s trusted steward.
Where would they land next? Yosef did not know. He had not had opportunity to think of a second abode, it had all happened so quickly.
Travelling north, what were the main cities? Or should they try a small place? Ordinarily, a small town or village was not a good idea for Jewish sojourners. Unsophisticated, supicious of foreigners with strange ways, the people might drive them out. But in the big cities, foreigners were accepted if they had money to support themselves. The only problem was that they could be become too well-known, and then word of their whereabouts would be passed to the wrong people--just as in Avaris! No, this time they had to risk a smaller place, well away from too much traffic and the big Jewish communities.
With such problems, the sights did not interest their minds, nor were their spirits captivated with the beauty and wonder of the land’s chief marvels, the all-stone Houses of Eternity that ancient per-aas had erected for reasons of their own, to preserve their embalmed bodies after death forever or for some other purpose possibly. Towering far beyond comprehension, so mighty that the moon seemed tiny beside their shadowed bulks, the Houses of Eternity stretched across the Western Bank of the River.
Hours passed on the road, with Yosef and Maryam pausing to go to the side in order to avoid the occasional wayfarer. Finally, with dawn, the traffic became too thick for them to sidestep, and since it was mainly country people going into the approaching city to bring food and animals to market, Yosef felt less threatened, and they kept to the road, moving amidst the villagers and farmers.
Yosef could not understand Mizraimite enough to speak it, of course, but he listened to the babble around him, eager to pick up something. Fortunately, some Mizraimite was familiar to him, since he had a young man’s ability to do trade with many diverse nations and speak business language with them. Such terms were common to most nations, including Mizraim--the queen of world trade.
The pylons and gates of the city up ahead began to loom on the horizon, and the crowd on the road was now a multitude. Yosef gathered courage to at least go take a look, and facing a man driving a cart of geese he pointed to the city, giving a sign he wanted to know what city it was.
“Nath-asta” (“Temple-City of the God Nath”) the trader called out. Yosef didn’t understand the word, but he asked several times again, until he was satisfied.
The name meant nothing to him, however. He only knew that Avaris was the place where the first Yosef once served Potiphar. But was there a separate city where Joseph was first taken and sold to Potiphar> It seemed to Yosef now that he recalled a bit that his rabbi had tried to pound into his skull in days gone by. But his rabbi called it “City of the Moon.” Was this “Nathasta” the one?
He had no time to consider more recollections, for the crowd hurried toward the markets once the city gates swung open at the blasts of watchmen’s trumpets.
Amazed at the sights, which surpassed Avaris, Yosef and his family stood off to the side of the market. Slaves were being brought in for sale too. Temple priests swamed out from the Great Temple that bordered the market. Never had Yosef seen so many people. Jerusalem’s markets, even at the height of the Passover, could not compare. They watched the slaves paraded before the buyers on a long platform that ran along one side of the Temple’s Market Wall. Many were young men and women--stripped naked.
Maryam turned her face away, but Yosef continued watching, stung by the sight of what it must have been like when Joseph was paraded before the multitude.
Shame poured into Yosef’s face, and tears of rage shone in his eyes. It was like he was seeing his forefather disgraced right before his eyes.
“Come, le us go,” he said to Maryam, unable to bear the scene. He led them away into the city, as far as he could go from the hateful market.
After what seemed like miles, he paused at the River, the Ioteru’s banks, unable to go any further. The Grand Canal of Nathasta was behind them to their left. Here the River made a grand loop, and the city sprawled along its shores, rich men’s villas interspersing the little fishing villages, which all had boats for ferrying produce across the River to the city markets. He moved into one big village, and they stopped again. The little street held maybe a dozen shops, some of copper, others of bronze, others of bread, clothing, a bead shop, a meat shop, a basket shop, a bakery, an earthenware shop, and a small brewery. It was a thriving, busy place, small but not too small.
“Let us try here,” Yosef suggested to Maryam. “We made a mistake settling amidst our own people, where everyone knows everyone else. Maybe here we will be let alone if there are no other Jews to recognize us.”
Looking around from under her hooded robe, she nodded her approval.
With a little of the gold that Maryam carried sewn into her robe, Yosef went to a house that stood apart, feeling it might be a good place to inquire.
A man came to his knocking. Yosef pointed to his wife, mule, and Child, and pointed at the house, and showed his gold. The man understood at once. He peered at them closely, looked at the gold again, and then beckoned for them to follow him.
The man was a man of property, Yosef saw at once, for not only was he cleanly and expensively robed in linen, but he had men-servants who followed him. They went to a hut at the edge of the community, and the men-servants entered and dragged out the protesting family--a fat man, laid off from a job at the brewery as nightwatchman, with a young wife and three small, dirty children. The men-servants permitted them to grab some clothing and the man took a bottle of something, and then they were pushed away, to start them off down the road. Swearing and shaking his fist, the dispossessed fat man and his family left without further trouble, and the hut was now open to Yosef and Maryam.
Yosef went in, looked around, and then came back out. Maryam and the Child then went in, and Yosef turned to the landlord. He noded, and held out the gold piece. The man said something, and a man-servant, a scribe, showed Yosef what his rent would be, by making marks on a tablet, the Akkadian way, which any businessman would understand.
Yosef, bowing, took the tablet as his part of the bargain after it was stamped with the man’s seal.
The landlord, taking the gold piece, left them. The place was theirs as long as they could maintain payment.
Maryam had much work to do, cleaning out the rubbish of the former occupants. They could not sleep indoors until it was cleaned, but the outbuilding was good enough for sleeping, and they retired there for the first nights. It keep them busy for days, preparing the long-neglected premises.
Neighbors came by to watch, most of them children. They especially watched Maryam with the Child, and tried to teach him words, which he quickly picked up. Later, mothers came for their children, and paused to watch Maryam as she went about her jobs making the place into a home. Seeing her difficulty, they showed her how to lay the bricks that needed to be put back into the half-demolished oven in the yard. Then they showed her how to get fuel for it, and many other things that a wife needed for run a household. Mizraim was so strange to Maryam, but with friendly young women to teach her, she learned how.
Yosef, too, had to learn brick-laying, and other aspects of his work if he hoped to earn a living for his family. He had rented a space on the street in the village that had just what he needed, a shop that he could close up tight at night against thieves. But what did the villagers want? They did not use wood very much, since it was too expensive and had to be brought in by boat from foreign lands. They slept on mats, and made many woven goods too from simple materials like palm branches and straw. Earthenware was simple too, and cheap.
Having picked up some more Mizraimite words, Yosef tried to learn more from the workers in the brick yard that lay on the village outskirts. Day after day he hung around until the men turned friendly and invited him to join their work. For nothing they showed him how, until he grew proficient. Having learned how to make bricks, and also to lay them properly in a wall, he went to his own shop and hung out some things of expensive, imported wood for show. The landlord came, bought a chair, then other men and some ladies too with means came and looked over his work. One lady brought him a chair from her house, and indicated that she wanted another just like it.
He made one that pleased her so much she came with other furniture, and he made copies. This was a good patron, for she had been taking the copies and selling them for much more in the city market in Nathasta. Before long, priests came directly to his shop and placed orders, and he now began making sacred objects for the temple trade. He refused to make any representation of a god, but once that was understood the priests continued their orders, for they could always add the images to his work afterwards.
This bothered Yosef, and he talked to Maryam about it. “No, all the earth is the Lord’s, and you are worthy of your hire. What they do with your good, honest works is not your sin, husband. It is wrong of them to turn them to service to false gods, but that is their choosing, not yours. I shall pray for the priests that come, that they will see something in us that will turn them to the Light. Maybe some good can come of this business you have with the priests.”
It so happened that good did come of it. One priest, who was in charge of library records, wanted Yosef to make wooden containers for the papyri, so that they would last for a long time and keep from the damp and insects that abounded in Mizraim. Yosef made many of these, which cost a great deal, for they wre made of fine cedar wood imported from Lebanon, a wood whose properties repelled boring worms and insects and preserved the contents. This archives-priest grew curious about the foreign carpenter and his family.
“Why have you moved to live among us?” he inquired. “Why are you not living among your own people in Avaris or Alexandria?”
Yosef was incomfortable with this question, but he felt so secure in this place by now that he felt no harm would come if he told the truth.
“The Child--he would be slain by His enemies, if we lived where news of his whereabouts became known.”
The priest gaped at the Child playing in the yard as his mother looked on. “What is so bad about him? I see nothing ill-favored in him. Why should he be killed?”
Yosef felt now he had gone too far, but he had opened the bag. What else could he do but tell the truth?
“He is a King, the King of our people, and the Promised One of the Ages, Who will save our people from our oppressors.”
The priests’ eyebrows lifted. He seemed at a loss to believe what he had just heard. A common, recently-weaned lad playing in the dust at the feet of his mother was this “King of the Ages and Desire of All Nations”?
Yosef nodded. “I know that is hard for your ears to swallow, but it is true. Angels have appeared to us, and there were oracles in our Great Temple. The Child is the Desire of the Nations.”
The priest left Yosef and went out into the yard, and was peering at the Child, who then noticed him, turning to him with an outstretched, chubby hand and steady gaze.
A most strange thing happened. The priest had heard Yosef’s words, and now those words became life and truth to him, with a power that sent the priest shuddering to his knees with his eyes streaming.
The priest was speechless. Wracked with astonishment, awe, and delight, and dread, he rocked back and forth.
The Child went to the man, who seemed unable to control himself as he backed away, holding out his hand as if to ward off the One who approached him like a Light too bright for human eyes.
The man then fled, but he crept back a few days later, big dark circles under his eyes.
“I cannot sleep until I find out more about what you said,” he explained to Yosef. “Tell me everything about yourselves, and how it came that you brought Him here to us men of the land of Kem.”
Yosef felt he needed to correct the man. “He is our King of kings, not yours. He will rule over the Jews, and His throne will be set in Jerusalem our holy city.”
The priest seemed not to hear. Something in the boy’s gaze told him more than Yosef could say, or would say. “He is like the ancient one they called Joseph,” he murmured once to the descendant, Yosef. “He too was a great lord here in our land, though a foreigner. I learned about him in old records at our temple, and though my people have forgotten it, there was a great famine once and he saved our people from starvation and death while saving his own people the Habiru, who came here with their flocks and herds when their own country dried up.”
“Those were MY people!” Yosef cried, astonished by the priest’s revelation and knowledge. “Yosef, the first of his name among our people, was our great Forefather, and I am named for him!”
The priest then did something that no Mizraimite would have done to a foreigner, unless he saw a Greater standing there before him. He bowed first, seven times to the Child, then a second seven to his father, as if they shared deity.
“You too must be divine,” he said. “Forgive my foolish impiety. Only a divinity could have saved our people saved us. And this godship has extended to you, so that by your blessed loins this new Savior is born to us and you!”
Yosef’s face showed his horror. “No, you do not understand. I am not the son of a god, nor was Joseph a god. This Child, he is not my son!”
Maryam by now was listening close. She joined him, and he turned to her with desperation, for he had lost all words to be able to explain to the priest what he needed to know to correct his idol-polluted understanding. She went and got the Child, holding him in her arms. Then she sat down on a stool, and told the priest everything, from the announcement by the angel to their flight to Mizraim.
“The first Yosef was very much like Him, it is true,” she acknowledged. “But this is the Promised One that we have looked for since the world began. He is the Son of the Most High, and my husband is not his father. We were yet married, and I had known no man when the Spirit of the Most High overshadowed me, and I conceived this holy Child.”
The priest was dumbfounded. He shook his head. “How can this be? How can a maid have a child without a husband? How can “Spirit,” as you say, conceive in flesh?”
He went away, shaking his head. Days later he returned to Yosef while he was at his work in the shop. He badly wanted to share his thoughts again with Yosef. Though very busy, Yosef laid down his tools and turned to the earnest seeker.
“I’ve not been able to tell anyone at the Temple. They would slay you and arrest me, if this matter became known. No competing new gods are permitted without the chief priest’s sanction, and he would never sanction a foreign god.”
“Thank you,” said Yosef, his face showing a lighter color. “By that you spared our lives.”
“At the same time, I cannot dispute what you say. Your--the Child, that is--is unlike any other, though he looks much the same in the flesh as other children of his age. Looking at Him, I always feel assured He is, indeed, what you claim He is. Somehow, I know it! I know it! My heart knows, though my head cannot understand the matter. He is a greater than the first Yosef, greater than any per-aa, maybe all he per-aas put together, and yet what could he be for? Why has He come again to the earth, especially in the form of a Child? That is the mystery that torments my thoughts day and night!”
Yosef was not able to satisfy the priest on this question, though he tried again and again the days to follow. But try as he might to restrict the Child to exclusive Savior of the Jewish Nation and People, the priest could not see it or accept it. Whenever the priest looked into the Child’s eyes, he saw something that said exactly the opposite from what Yosef said. It was unmistakable to him. He tried to tell Yosef, but Yosef was not about to include Mizraimites as part of the Chosen People.
“Yes, He is the Desire of the Nations, as I said,” Yosef tried to say with patience to the tirelessly probing librarian-priest, “but that is not to say He is YOUR king, your great Per-aa, oh no! He will rule this country and all the other heathen nations, but you will be our slaves when He rules from Jerusalem. You will hew wood and carry water for us! You will serve us in the brickyards, even as we served you after the time of Joseph.”
Tears in his eyes, the priest did not get angry, hearing this. He rose and went, but as he was going he said to Yosef, “You will find a greater King than this in this Child. No, He will rule in all hearts, and with him there will be no Greek, or Roman, or Jew. We will be the same in His eyes, for He will have mercy on all men, and extend his scepter of mercy to all alike.”
Yosef turned away, seeing the priest was hopeless to convince, and Maryam, who had been listening to the whole range of conversation from the start, stepped to Yosef, bowing, her voice voice gentle and full of respect. “It is you who are mistaken, husband.”
Yosef’s mouth dropped open. Hot words rushed to his lips. But he caught himself and stomped off, going down to the River to think and gather his thoughts before he returned home.
Closing the shop, he went to the house and ate his dinner.
After dinner, he played with the Child. Yeshua knew both Mizraimite and Jewish words by now, and could speak as easily with his Mizraimite playmates as he could with his parents.
“We must take you from this land before you become Mizraimite,” Yosef murmured. “These people here will claim you as their Savior and set you on the per-aa’s throne!”
Yeshua gazed into his stepfather’s eyes, and Yosef, catching the gaze, felt somehow ashamed.
He looked away, then rose and gave the Child to his mother. He went off to bed, and when his wife came they lay without speaking for some time.
“I am going down to Avaris,” he informed his wife. “We need to hear something, what is going on back home, and we’ll never hear it here.”
Maryam said nothing.
“I will be gone a few days. The shop will be closed. You will be safe here, with the good neighbors God has given to look after you. I will find out whatever I can, then return immediately.”
Restless in his sleep, his eyes were red when he arose, and then he got ready, took the mule and headed for the high road.
A few days later he rushed back into the house. He caught Maryam going to the door, so slowly had she responded to the noise of his footfalls.
“King Herod is dead!” he shouted to her astonished face. “Worms feast on the old hyena’s rotten, evil carcass! They say he wanted all Israel to mourn at his passing, so he had the most important men rounded up and gave orders for them to be executed when he died. That is the only way the people would mourn, he knew, when the death angel dragged him to the fires of Gehenna. Now we can return home! The Child will be safe! Maryam! Just think! Home! And we’ll be happy again with our loved ones in our own country!”
He didn’t tell her about another experience he had going up to Avaris, amidst the Houses of Eternity. Having no idea how long they might sojourn in Mizraim, he was thinking he needed to know more about the stone-work they contained, so he took the time to go and see for himself.
He was climbing amidst the rubble that lay at the base of a colossal, lion-headed idol when he saw what the ages had concealed and now revealed to the light of day. A storm had uncovered the rubble to a greater depth, removing sands that had lain there beneath the ocean for thousands of years before the uprising of the whole land. Or perhaps the maker of these artifacts had gone to the trouble to make them anew on the spot where they most logically be found. But what had once lain hidden on a continent that broke up and sank in the eastern part of the world, these things now confronted Yosef’s amazed eyes.
Skeletons had been pushed upwards in the rubble that had filled a chamber beneath the ground, and the blocking stones of the doorway at the end of steps leading to it were part of the mix. One skeleton was smaller, in the skull, than the other. A female’s. Yosef looked at it, but could not tell for sure. It was the stone chest that drew his attention most. Adzes that looked like those the Mizraimites used lay scattered, partly showing in the rubble. He pulled at one, and the wood came apart in his hand. How old was it? It turned to powder, except for the stone blade. Taking it, he tried to pry open the stone chest.
It was hard work, using all his strength, and got it wedged in partly. Taking another adze-head, he pounded it until the lid began to give. With a suctioning sound, the lid suddenly lifted out light as a feather, sliding off and then crashing, giving away its true weight as several times a man’s.
He wrenched his foot aside before it was crushed by the lid, and he gasped as he stared into the chest. In the blackness shone an object that looked like a curved seashell, or a kind of beauty aid--a woman’s mirror!
He lifted it out with trembling fingers. It felt strangely cool as the hot winds around him blasted him with flying sand. Yosef grasped it with both hands so hard he might have cracked it, if it had been sea shell, or porcelain, or carved bone, but it was made of something much stronger than any material he knew. There were jewel-like beads on it, and they flashed at him. Touching them, the “mirror” flashed into colored life, scenes filling it and changing from one to another in rapid succession.
Yosef, feeling he had something enchanted and evil, nearly dropped it. But he held on, unable to tear his eyes off what it was picturing for him.
Cities he could not imagine had ever existed, so large and filled with flying ships and innumerable beings that looked more like gods than human beings--this country, what was it? Mizraim held great marvels, to be sure, but these were far greater. He watched the pictures until they showed a palace hall, and in the palace hall stood a throne-chair of sapphire, and someone was sitting on it.
He tried to look at the king or emperor--was he Roman? Mizraimite? Yosef could not tell. The ruler looked to be beyond any human being in stature and power, and at first Yosef thought it was a statue, for statues of gods were made to look more glorious than ordinary humanity. But the statue moved and was living--and it had unspeakable power and majesty in the body and thighs and arms, but what was that on the head? It was horrible, beyond saying! A hawk’s head seemed fashioned to a man’s, with the beak and the eyes taking the place of a man’s nose and eyes!
This was too much for a simple Nazarene! As if the trance were broken, he yelled and threw the mirror with all his might as far as he could.
It was good for him that he could throw so far, for the blinding light that broke, with the fire and smoke that erupted at the spot where the mirror crashed against a rock, was enough to annihilate every living thing in the vicinity. Thrown down behind some blocking stones, Yosef saw sheets of fire shoot over and miss him by a finger’s breath--and the concussion of air rushing back into the giant hole created by the explosion shook the ground and made him deaf for hours afterwards.
Crawling away, he then got up and ran for his life. It was an experience he only wanted to forget. How could he tell Maryam such a thing? She wouldn’t understand a word of his account, he knew. It was altogether strange and without explanation. So he kept it to himself, only the vision of the indescribably beautiful blue-sapphire throne chair came to him at odd moments, tormenting his mind and even his sleep at times. He had never seen in all his life anything so beautiful as that chair. How could he ever forget it completely? That was asking too much of a carpenter.
In all respects, it was a good time to return home. The means God had provided--the gold, frankincense, and myrrh--had been sold to provide for the house and shop and tools in Avaris and the second set of premises on the outskirts of Nathasta. Yosef had earned nearly that entire sum in his work since, and so they could carry back his earnings for a fresh new start in the Glorious Land. God had trul;y blessed them! The Child was also flourishing, and he was now joined by Yosef’s firstborn, a healthy half-brother to Yeshua named James.
The journey to Israel would be somewhat difficult with a baby James, and a young boy, but now Yosef could afford to buy a second mule for the Child. It would be a far more joyous trip, however, since the wicked king was removed by death, and they had nothing to fear except the robbers and cutthroats along the Track of the Caravans. This time even that was not to be feared so much, for they could join a caravan without fear of drawing attention of Herod’s spies. It would be an easy trip home.
Passing through Avaris, Yosef and Maryam were astonished to see the shops of the Jews hung with black cloth, for they were mourning Herod’s passing.
“But he was a foul murderer, killing our people and even babes in arms to keep his throne!” he protested to Maryam.
Yet when they came to the market, Noahdiah, in sackcloth, was there, and with her eagle eye she spotted them.
Practically running down people, she beat it to them.
Grabbing Yosef’s coat, she forced him to stop. “Where do you think you are going? You disgraced me by running away like that! What is going on? Where did you go?”
Yosef was in no mood to explain his reasons for flight to the likes of her. On his last trip to Avaris he heard accounts of her close dealings in business that surpassed anything he knew she had done in Holy Israel. No wonder the heathen hated his people and called them grasping and unscrupulous! She had given them all a bad name! This woman a lepton-pinching miser, for all her riches, and her greed knew no bounds.. She had tried to buy all the worn clothing in Mizraim, then she hired the poorest women to sew patches of new cloth on the clothing, and when that was done she sold the lot to merchants in big cities, only to hear back that the clothing had torn, the new patches shrinking in the first wash and ruining the older part of the garment. Everyone who had bought from her was furious. But that hadn’t stopped her.
She had bought old wineskins, filled them with new wine, and sold them to caravans. When the caravans reached the deserts the wineskins burst and they lost everything, thanks to her. But that didn’t restrain her avarice. Everything she touched turned to grief for somebody and gold for her own money-bag. Everyone she bilked tried to get hold of her to make her pay back what swhe had robbed them of, but she always slipped away--and they were left with nothing! What could they say to the Roman governors in protest? She kept no records of sales for them to seize, and bribes had already reached the various officials and magistrates, and they refused to hear the cases against her.
He pulled away from Abatha’s daughter and continued on. But Maryam’s voice came to him, calling him to stop.
Gritting his teeth, he halted his mules.
“What do you want, woman?” he said to Noahdiah. “I want no business with you.”
A look of surprise mingled with her scorn. “Oh, now that you’ve got a little heathen pork fat under your girdle and two stout sons, not to mention those two mules, you’re putting on airs with me, son of Yacob! How unsuitable this fine manner goes with this donkey-faced street hussy you’ve taken for a wife, Carpenter!”
She took a few mincing steps around and paused, arms akimbo, blocking their path.. “Well, wherever you’re running to this time, you won’t get out of my reach, I can tell you! And I can wager that you are thinking of going back, are you not?”
Yosef’s eyes shot fire, as much for his pride as for his wife’s wounded honor. “Well, what of it? It is our home! We have a right to return home, to the city of my forefathers.”
“So you dare bolt like desert hares to show your guilty, sneaking faces back there again? I never doubted your sense before, when you were fleeing to cover your shame from your kindred, but I am afraid you lost all your remaining wits now!”
No man had ever spoken to him as she had spoken. His rage boiling beyond a youth’s control, he would have reached out to grab the woman by the throat, and might have snapped her neck like a chicken’s, but Maryam’s presence restrained him. His chest rose and fell with great shudders. He could hardly keep back the words that he wanted to hurl at her. They scalded his throat like baths of hot oil, and he could not see the crowd the scene was collecting, he was so blinded with fury.
On her side, Noadiah looked like she would fight to the death, rather than give way to a young man she hated for slipping temporarily out of her clutches.
Finally, in the deadly silence, Maryam’s quiet voice murmured low. “We must be going now, good Auntie. Suffer the little children to pass. For their sake we return home.”
The “good Auntie”’s face looked as if she had been slapped, reminded as she was that there were two children involved here after all. Unable to deny it, she stood aside.
Yosef, bridling his rage more for his own honor’s sake than the sake of the children, got the mules moving again.
They had gone only a few feet when a hated voice got the last word. “If it is necessary that you take that--that Misborn to his death, then go! You have my full permission as your chief kinswoman. Go! But I promise you’ll find a rude reception where you are going, take my word for it! They’ll not have forgotten how this child of Maryam’s came to be! Nor shall I! Deny it, but He is the proof! The living Proof she sinned down in the gutter with some passing Ismaelite! Sinned most shamelessly! I just hope his poor little baby brother doesn’t find it out when they are grown to understanding. Poor, poor thing! Imagine having an illegitimate as his brother! I wouldn’t wish that fate on a pig of Gad!”
Though Maryam didn’t turn round, she stiffened as if a sword had pierced her. Gasping, she clutched little James, her shoulders sagging low as the mule carried her onward to the gate of the city.
Yosef turning once, caught Maryam’s expression, and saw that she was silently weeping, and he dared not look again until they cleared the now hated city.
They found the caravan yard, and attached themselves to one going to the Glorious Land.
One day journey’s out, while at camp, Yosef turned to Maryam to give her a word of comfort.
“Never mind her,” he said of Noahdiah. Then he mentioned some of the things he had heard in the market of Avaris about her. But Maryam’s countenance darkened still further. Tears shone in her eyes. Finally, she spoke to him.
“Stop, husband. We must forgive her. She is ignorant and does not know what she is doing. She really does not see the harm she does people, for all she sees is the gold. Her eyes and heart are blinded by it, for gold has become her god, and she is its bond-slave. We need to pray, and offer a sacrifice for her in the Temple when we return, that God will have mercy and set her soul free.”
That was quite a lot of words from Maryam.
Yosef nearly gagged. Pray for Noahdiah? Make an expensive sacrifice for her? But he dared say no more and provoke more sorrow for his wife than she already suffered.
Yet Yosef, to his dismay, found out Noahdiah was right. Nobody had forgotten, and Maryam was held accountable for the premature birthday of Yeshua. Regarded with suspicion and outright censure, Maryam was treated as a disgraced woman in Bethlehem because she had become pregnant during the period she was betrothed to Yosef. She had escaped just in time to save the Child, which other women, who lost theirs to Herod’s soldiers, bitterly resented. These two things were reason to leave Bethlehem. Added to this, Yosef heard that Herod’s wicked son, Archelaus, was installed as King of Judaea by the Romans, and everybody knew Archelaus was no less a serpent and a cruel tyrant than his father. Yosef could not quit Bethlehem and Judaea fast enough.
Actually, it was impossible to get clear of Herod’s family of royal vipers completely, without leaving the Glorious Land, so Yosef turned his family back toward their hometown of Nazareth of Galilee. There too a son of Herod ruled, the Tetrarch Antipas, but he was not quite as bad as Archelaus. If they took care not to show themselves too publicly, and resided in a modest place on the outskirts of town, Yosef considered that they could live at relative peace in Nazareth.
How naive he was!
Quietly as they lived, it made no difference. Perhaps her reputation and her personal presence were proving a handicap in the world centers, for Noahdiah the millionairess and miser returned for longer periods to Nazareth, running her trade empire from her delapidated little house, with bankers and agents posted in all the chief cities. Not content with just business operations, she kept the gossip mill in Nazareth running day and night, so Maryam’s name was a very frequent one on Noadiah’s octopus-like grapevine. Everyone knew them,and there was no escape from the stones that flew in people’s glances, cutting words, and innuendoes. Daily, Yosef had to face one or more stones, and somehow learn to take it without striking back. It was a daily death for him, and took its toll on his spirit.
Maryam, more naturally tender and forgiving, fared better at first since she tended to think more kindly of people as time went on, no matter how much they had wounded her. But it saddened her, to see the effect of the gossip on other souls around her. It coarsened them, year by year, as they kept at it.
She knew the truth, and so that comforted her, but she could see that knowing the truth did not help her neighbors, who grew increasingly bitter and hollow. And the truth did not help her first-born socially either, as mothers kept back children of his age from playing with him. Well, then, there were his own brothers and sisters to play with, as they joined the family circle with each passing year. But, still, Maryam had to go out once in a while with her first-born to pay various calls on kindred, and then the glances and muttered comments told her that she and the Child were considered nothing but a contamination in proper Nazarene society.
Nazareth, even with her memories of her saintly parents who had died there, became a sad place of isolated existence for her, a reality that pierced her simple, harmony-loving soul regularly on a daily basis. She sighed often. Raising her children grew harder, as Yosef’s spirit failed him, and his body collapsed beneath the weight of various infirmities--one being inflamed, itching sores on his hands, arms, and face that invariably came on after he had worked himself hard in hot weather. It might have helped his condition initially if he could have spoken out--but the result would have been worse than the things he suffered.
He knew he could not tell the truth to the town, that this was not his son, but God’s. They would have called him a lunatic and blasphemer if he had claimed that. They believed the Child was illegitimate, and there was nothing he could say that would make them change their minds. Caught between the truth and a lie, his spirit was crushed, and he sickened, and sank.
Maryam filled in for his lagging work with weaving. But she was hard put to earn enough to keep the large family Joseph had given her. In all his life-work, he made one truly beautiful thing that temporarily raised his spirits and pride in himself: a blue chair fit for a king and even the Messiah.
The chair's new owner was Pilatus Pontii.
Dead, Yosef would have turned in his grave if he could have known. His chair, styled after the sapphire chair he had seen in the mirror of Atlantis years before, which was almost a mirror image of the a chair he had seen in a shop in Sepphoris, supporting the proud haunches of the powerful Roman procurator? It was, indeed, God’s mercy that Yosef never lived to see the day: the day of Yeshua’s trial before the hated oppressor of his people.
Indeed, that would have been a most terrible thing in Yosef’s eyes. Yet the chair would be preserved for time beyond comprehension. His work honored by the Most High God, who would have guessed, leastwise the maker, that the chair would one day be restored beyond the glorious copy he had seen in the palace throneroom of the First Atlantis, when a theiomorphic, horus-headed Titan Emperor--or was it his master the fallen Light-Bringer?--sat on a chair cut from a solid sapphire? Who could have foreseen that this “Chair of King David” would one day bear the Royal Offspring of David, Yeshua, the One Who is both Apha and Omega, A and Z, Aleph and Tau? Seated upon it, He would receive as his son a young man in a far future time who had been lamed and abandoned. Adopted by the Messiah, he would become a great Healer beyond anything he had ever been in his previous life. And healing was desperately needed in that future world grown very sick in body and spirit.
For Yosef knew that it was written in the holy scriptures, recording the Almighty’s decree: