Prologue of Clopas

Let it first be said that I am not the author of this story. The burdens of composition have been mercifully borne by a younger hand that never touched the flesh of he whom they called the Christ. Indeed, the scribe was a young boy when the events that he so imaginatively describes occurred. He never trod the sacred soil of Palestine, nor can he in his youth possibly understand the full gravity of the theme herein. However, to his credit, he has been a good student and a loyal friend throughout my years of exile. Realizing that my life now draws near its end and that soon I shall be gathered to my fathers, he has prevailed upon me to read his vision of the story – a story I have recounted to him a thousand times.

I wish I could say his tale is flawless in every respect, but alas, I cannot. Please do not misunderstand me. The thrust of the account is entirely accurate — remarkably so. The details, however, abound with inaccuracies — so many in fact that I abandoned my intention to itemize them for correction. For the most part, they do but innocent injustice to a few dates and features of geography, which are completely irrelevant to the story as a whole. Such irregularities serve only to irritate the sensibilities of a dying old man who, because he can see no future, must jealously preserve the past. I know I will not live long enough to see them all put right.

I hope the reader will forgive the author, as I have done, for his litany of minor errors, realizing that ultimately the underlying truth is not revealed in the details. As progenitor of the tale, I unreservedly affirm that the author has remained throughout an unyielding servant of the truth. I believe, however, that future generations of readers might appreciate, by way of introduction, a glimpse into the historic milieu of the story. I am an adept student of the past, and I know very well that those who conquer create history to conceal their crimes and justify their infamies. It is inevitable. Information that is today common knowledge will one day be torn from cultural memory so that history can be remolded to serve the expedience of entrenched power. It is for those future generations whose vision of my world may have become obscured by time or villainy that I offer the following brief comments.

I am Clopas. I am a Jew of the Tribe of Judah and a member of a royal family whose bloodline is said to spring from the loins of Israel’s most noble warrior-king, David. Whether or not this is true matters little. I can no more prove the past existence of David than I can that of Father Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob or Joseph or Moses or Saul. They live in scripture and scripture makes them real to my people.

My grandfather became wealthy in the frankincense trade. My father, Heli, before I was born waged a bloodless struggle with Herod the Great for the throne of Israel. The political realities of the day dictated victory for Herod, but my father, as consolation, was rewarded with the spiritual stewardship of the vast multitude of wealthy Jews living outside of Palestine, especially those abiding in Ephesus and the five provinces of Asia Minor. These Hellenized but pious ‘foreign’ Jews, called diaspora, paid a yearly tax to my father who, in turn, forwarded a portion of the funds to Herod for his great building projects. In addition to collecting taxes from diaspora, Heli created new Jews by baptizing gentiles who were attracted to the concept of a single deity. My family had been prosperous for generations, but Heli’s uneasy partnership with Herod created a fortune that rivaled that of the King himself.

I am the poor boy’s uncle.

from Book One: Lamb of God

Joseph was a direct descendant of King David and one of the richest men in Judea. His father, Heli, had been extremely influential during the reign of Herod the Great, and was, next to King David himself, the family’s most revered ancestor.

As Jesus grew older it became increasingly clear to him that his mother’s marriage to Joseph was a most singularly important event in Jewish culture. Mary was a purebred Benjamite and nearly thirty years younger than Joseph.

Since the time of the Judges, the tribe of Benjamin had been cut off from the other tribes by a terrible curse. Tradition held that the Benjamites triggered a bitter feud with the priestly tribe of Levi by refusing to turn over certain infidels suspected of assaulting a Levite and butchering his concubine. In their capacity as the spiritual leaders of the chosen people, the Levites promptly pronounced an irrevocable curse upon the Benjamites, causing the remaining tribes to vow, “None of us shall give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite.”

In the ensuing battles, the tribe of Benjamin was nearly exterminated. When peace was finally restored, only six hundred Benjamite men remained alive. The other tribes lamented the fact that one of their own should be so cut off and feared that an entire tribe might become extinct. Nevertheless, the curse upon that generation could not be undone. To remedy the predicament, the priestly Levites agreed to allow the surviving Benjamite men to steal their wives from among the daughters of Shiloh, in Bethel. (The men of Shiloh, because of their cautious neutrality during the conflict, were obviously too unmanly to deserve mastership of their women.) Although the Benjamites remained relatively few in number, they were to grow mighty in power and influence, even presenting Israel with its first king, Saul.

This paradox sprang from the fact that the choicest real estate in all the Promised Land remained by tradition the birthright of the tribe of Benjamin, allotted to them by Joshua when the children of Israel first slaughtered the original inhabitants. The holy city of Jerusalem was the crown of Benjamin’s inheritance and the great Temple of God was its jewel.

The union of the houses of David and Saul had long been the dream of the orthodox nationalists. Such a symbol could serve to heal the thousand festering wounds of regional and religious factionalism that crippled the region. Under the right circumstances, a son from this union could be held up as the hereditary “King of the Jews.” Such a star could capture the imagination of the people, usurp the power of petty kings such as Herod, perhaps even lead a revolt against the Roman occupation army, and ultimately rule a united Palestine from the mythical throne of David.

The branches are grafted to the root of the tree.
Shunned Benjamin’s womb bears King David’s seed.
The tribes are united, the Word is restored.
A King for all Israel, Messiah, and Lord.

On Jesus’ eleventh birthday the headmaster of the Alexandrian academy called him into his chambers. A stranger was seated near the window, a man robed in white linen.

“Jesus, I present Theudas, the patriarch of the Egyptian order of the Therapeutæ. During your stay with us he has served as your father’s agent. He brings exciting news. In a few days you will be leaving us and returning to Palestine. It saddens me to think we will be losing you, but a great adventure lies before you. I am confident that your years with us have prepared you for what is to come.”

“Master, what is this about? I have not completed my classes. Surely my father would prefer that I...”

Theudas stood up and gently pushed Jesus down into a chair.

“Sit down, my boy, sit, sit.”

Theudas was obviously very nervous. He paced back and forth across the room cracking his knuckles one by one. He cleared his throat several times before speaking. When he finally began, his words tumbled from his mouth so fast that Jesus had great difficulty following his thoughts.

“Your father and I are...are colleagues. He has instructed me to tell you certain important things. I would prefer you heard these things from him, but he has insisted...and as we are old friends...I hardly know where to begin. Do you know who Heli was?”

“My grandfather?”

“Heli, your father’s father, was a that... by that I mean a direct and unpolluted descendent of the great king. For centuries it has been the dream of our order and the Essenes and, indeed, all throughout the world who piously worship the one God...the one God...whose name may not be spoken...”

The poor man was so flustered he stopped to take a deep breath and clear his voice.

“...been our dream to restore David to the throne of a united kingdom and install the family of Zadok permanently to the high priesthood. Heli, your grandfather, was the first David in centuries to nearly accomplish this sacred task. He challenged Herod the Great for the throne of Israel, but sadly, it was not meant to be. He was later convinced...some say convinced...others say...well, it does not matter...he was convinced by Herod to temporarily be satisfied with the patriarchy of Ephesus and all the diaspora of the five provinces of Asia Minor.”

Young Jesus could not follow what was being said.

“Master, please, patriarch of who in Ephesus? What is diaspora?”

“Jews, lad. Jews! The diaspora are the Jews of the outside world. Oh, there are so many more Jews outside Palestine than within her borders, and unlike the natives, the diaspora have great wealth. How do you think Herod the Great paid for all his monumental building? Not with local funds, I assure you. Herod’s wealth came from the diaspora who dwell in Rome and Greece and Asia Minor, people who gladly gave of their wealth to feel like Jews. Heli was their leader in Asia Minor. He swelled their ranks by converting thousands of Gentiles. If they were not born Jews, he made them Jews by baptizing them. He was really quite amazing...then he taxed them...well...collected from them yearly tithes...and each year brought this treasure to Great Herod and delivered the Essenes and the other cults into alliance with him.

“For a while it appeared that he would...that he could...with the help of a Zadokite high priest...the family of Zadok are pledged to the Davids...but the time was not right for Heli...then...not right for your father. Great Herod is of course now dead. His son, Antipas, is weak...a fool...he has lost the good will of the local cults and the diaspora...Heli’s old alliance has crumbled...but now a Zadok is high priest...the time could be right...but your father is now too old...too old don’t you see?”

Jesus stood up abruptly. “I do not see! Sir, you must forgive me. I do not understand a word you are saying.” Jesus turned to the headmaster. “Master, what has all this to do with me? It is my birthday and I wish to rejoin my friends. Perhaps my father can better explain these things to me when he...”

“You!” Theudas shouted. “You, my young friend, are the David of your generation. Do you not see? For all intents and purposes... your blood makes you… king of the Jews!”

Jesus sat down. This is absurd, he thought. King of the Jews? A bunch of feuding shepherds and merchants whose only talent seemed to be a historic predisposition for disenfranchisement? He certainly did not want to be king of anything, least of all the Jews. He was not particularly ashamed of being a Jew, but in his mind he was an Egyptian, a student, and a very good student. He was going to be a physician. He loved Egypt, the grandeur of its past and the wonders of its sciences. Contrasted with the colorful tradesmen and calm philosophers of Hellenized Alexandria, young Jesus saw the Israelites as a collection of superstitious and primitive tribesmen who worshipped a violent and sadistic desert demon that they believed must be fed by an endless flood of animal blood.

Although he could make no sense of Theudas’ words, the look on the old man’s face, and that of his headmaster as well, told him that they were quite serious. Already he knew that this would not be the last he would hear of this “royal bloodline” nonsense. For the first time in his life he wished he were someone else.

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