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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Aristobulus and Salome, excerpt from 2nd draft of new Yuya book

Herod Joseph and Mariamne IV and their twelve-year old son Aristobulus Jeshua, entered the Jeru Temple for devotional worship, and also for the purpose of inspecting the premises. In addition to being responsible for the governance of the northern territories, Joseph was custodian of the Temple, and ensuring for the fullness of the tradition and the sanctity of the Holy of Holies fell to him. He considered this the highest aspect of his office, and those who knew him believed that he was wholly devoted to his most sacred duty. He was the father of the one who was known as the wonderful counselor, and the depth of his duties always astonished even his own soul.

This fatherly example of stewardship of the Temple would mark Aristobulus with a similarly protective streak, which would flare up when corruption seeped in almost three decades later. Constant threats to the Temple got the young Ari thinking about a more decentralized faith, where the kingdom would be in the hearts of the followers, and the places of worship would be wherever the Chosen found themselves. He had these dreams from a youthful age, but as he was still wholly devoted to his father and the Temple, he shared them only with his mother.

The arriving party was greeted by Caiaphas, High Priest of Judea who had been appointed by Valerius Gratus, together with senior Rabbis and other officials of the Temple, and their assistants. Caiaphas had performed the duties of High Priest for nearly a decade and the subjects of his retirement and of his successor were on the minds of many. It was the tradition for this post to be appointed by the northern king, and Caiaphas, knowing full well his days as High Priest, and his days on this very earth, were numbered, asked Herod Joseph if he may be allowed to offer advice on the succession.

Joseph responded positively, replying, “My mind is still open. It would be of great value to hear your thoughts.”

Caiaphas was nodding appreciatively and told him “Two of the worthiest candidates will be at today’s briefing.”

During the tour Herod and family were shown the current status of the areas of teaching, of prayer, of sacrificial offerings and of communal cooking and eating. Ari liked to look into the corners, and out the windows, and perused almost every book he came across. At one point he went through a doorway and started into an attached dwelling, but was quickly advised to return to the main room. The living quarters of the Rabbis and Temple workers were not included on this visit.

At the end of this quiet tour, each of the royals took time to pray, in the chapel adjoining the Holy of Holies. Herod waited outside the chapel for Ari, and together they walked back to the main hall.

There followed a briefing in the council room, where Herod of Chalcis (with Aristobulus listening attentively) was apprised of events and developments regarding the various competing factions within Judaism, and the encroaching influences on the perimeter of the Holy Land. Regarding Jerusalem, all the discussion focused on Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes. Considering the Judaic Holy Lands and the frontiers, Samaritans, Philistines, Idumeans all were worthy of inclusion.

In addition to Ari and his father and two of his father’s advisors, others present at the meeting included High Priest Caiaphas, Jonathan ben Ananias, Theophilus ben Ananias, and the noted scribe and teacher Gamaliel, a grandson of Hillel.

Caiaphas opened with a general update. “The Pharisees and Sadducees have agreed to work together on most matters. The Essenes are occasionally held in suspicion by the Romans, but they are nearly always cleared of charges, and for the most part deserve their lofty reputation.”

“Certain of the rural families, however, have hooked up with the Zealots, and rumblings of rebellion are heard in the hills and in the towns, from Shechem to Jericho, Hebron to Rafah. Some of them want to be rid of the Romans, others would like to see you and I go as well.”

He had been looking directly into the face of Herod of Chalcis, then slowly turned his gaze to Aristobulus, and then to Gamaliel.

Gamaliel in in turn began to speak. “ We can tolerate Roman rule, our leaders work with Romans at the highest levels. What would become of Us if the region were to fall into the wrong hands … the enemy within is as dangerous to us as those along our borders. I think we need to get some more food stored in and near Jerusalem.”

Jonathan ben Ananias was nodding agreement, and added his own commentary. “Our people have been battered by persecution and famine, yet the resilience is powerful. Storing food is vital for the near term, but I know we can all agree that growing food is how we can improve our own lives over the medium to longer term.” Aristobulus shot him a knowing glance, the youngster wondering if Jonathan has somehow learned about the seeds Ari was carrying in his pockets.

Relations with Egyptians, Syrians, Greeks and Romans were all included in the report, with the developing situations in Alexandria, Tiberias and Caesarea discussed more specifically, together with Roman attitudes to each of the jurisdictions. At the end of this relatively brief yet crucial meeting, the royals got up and joined with a larger group of people waiting in the communal eating room nearby.

Many cousins and officials, from Hashmonein, Levite, Davidic and Herodian streams, journeyed from all over Israel and Judea, traveling to the Temple to honour and meet with the royals. There were more than four dozen guests, of which about half were relatives and half were officialdom, and they gathered together in the kitchen / dining area while Ari Jesh and his family were touring the buildings and praying, and were elated to now see them entering the room. There was a measure of festivity in the air, a quiet yet confident celebration of the eternally divine, the shared LORD who moves with history, and provides guidance to the Chosen People.

Everyone gathered in the large dining area, and Jesh got speaking with two youthful Rabbis about interpretations of Holy Scripture. These men were both fully willing to hear young Ari out, but it was true that there were others, the elder teachers, who were waiting to speak to this prodigious soul. When they told him that Hillel had requested a get-together, Ari Jesh immediately followed the resident Rabbis into the council meeting room, not noticing that at that same moment his family had been leaving to continue eating and conversing at the Agrippa home a few blocks away, the mansion on a hill overlooking the City.

The quieter of the two Rabbis broke the silence, speaking quietly in Jeshua’s direction. “The Teacher has requested a personal meeting with you, if your time permits today.”

Jeshua spoke directly and immediately. “This is perfect, as I was just waiting for the right moment to ask you brothers if it would be possible for myself to reason with the Master.”

The two men and the lad left the room and along the hallway enroute to the chambers Hillel appeared out of a side doorway, and a smile came across the old man’s face. He extended his hand, and young Ari Jeshua took it into his own, and slowly walked beside the grand master until each took their seat at the table in the main council room.

A frail and elderly Hillel sat at the head of the table, with his grandson Gamaliel at his left hand, and young Aristobulus at his right. Hillel formed the Holy Triangle with his fingers on the table in front of him, and began speaking slowly.

“Messiah, I am old and have taught many men in my time. My wisdom and knowledge remains sound, yet my years are numbered and I feel my teachings may be losing some of their fluidity. I want you to benefit from my guidance while you can, and realize that much of my philosophy and insight has already been written down, with more to come. Your parents have set you on a righteous path; know always that the Rabbis are here to help you, to work with you.”

“These men before you will carry on the teachings, and guide you upon your way, especially my grandson here Gamaliel, whom I have appointed as your personal tutor. Questions of Providence, of Justice, and of Scriptural interpretation may be brought to him.”

Jesh was appreciative, yet already had business on his mind. “Thank you my Lord. You are speaking of my destiny, and I honour your respect and acknowledgements. I am privileged to meet with you and to speak with you and to have access to God’s learned and wise souls within these Holy walls. I will forever remember this day and do my best not to disappoint yourselves or Our Father in the months and years to come.”

“Let us use our time together here today to discuss the state of teaching in Israel and Judea, and if I may be permitted to say so, we should also take it upon ourselves to analyze the even more important subject of the general conditions Our people have been living in. A man hears little and learns even less when his stomach is growling louder than the teacher is speaking.”

The Rabbis looked at each other in astonishment and the room fell silent. Hillel smiled, and then he chuckled out loud. He gestured to Gamaliel to respond, which he did. “We had heard that you are a seeker of Truth, and that you take your Chosen status and that of Our people quite seriously, so fine, tell us what is going on out there, and what if anything we may be able to do for the benefit of Israel and Judea. We also know of the troubles, but have been at a loss when trying to settle on a strategy to improve the welfare of all.”

Young Jeshua Aristobulus spoke with the men about Jeru and Shiloh, about Jericho and Caesarea, about Alexandria and Rome. What he knew best was Galilee, Nazareth, Tiberias and Caesarea Philippi. For news of locales further away, he often had to rely on second and third-hand sources. It wasn’t just that he seemed more in tune with the pulse of the people than those in the Temple, but he seemed to be one of them.

They were impressed at his ability to perceive the essence of the matters at hand, and his knowledge of scriptural meanings was astounding to the elders. Ari told them about towns where the synagogue was crowded and needed more land, such as Caesarea, and other places where the house of worship had plenty of available land that could be used to build housing and farms.

He knew which libraries needed repairs, and which needed books. He pointed out which classrooms required more chairs and tables, and which schools needed more teachers. It was not a complete report of the nation, more like an analysis of Galilee, Qumran and a few other centers, but it was an astoundingly perceptive summary. When they asked him how a boy of twelve could come across such knowledge, he replied that he was fortunate to have cousins throughout the region, and that his father’s employees were keeping him regularly informed about places of learning, and of worship. The utterance of this last word made a couple of the Rabbis feel uneasy, for how or why would a twelve-year old be monitoring the houses of faith?

Ari made no mention of his own mission or status, and spoke only of the difficult life facing many who wish to study and continue the teachings. He also pleaded for the farmers to be given lenience and support, for many had resorted to eating seed during the preceding years of famine. They were now subsisting poorly, yet most needed only a helping hand to surely thrive again, and restore bounty to the marketplace.

Young Jeshua pulled out several different, overly large seed grains, and set them on the table. “These are from the days when Salome and the Pharisees ruled peacefully together. Our farms brought forth cartloads of the biggest ears of corn and sheaves of barley that any men had ever seen. I have brought these only to illustrate our collective sin, and to show that this is not the way it always has to be.”

Again the room fell silent, and as the seeds were passed around the table, one of the men bowed his head, while another put his hands together to pray. Rarely had they been met with the folly of sin in such a forceful way, and the lesson drove deep into their hearts and souls.

Ari then asked for resolution, speaking softly yet forcefully. “I am requesting that two of the hardest-hit regions, Hebron and Shechem, be provided with allocations of seed and tools, for this is all that is truly required to get the lives moving again.”

Gamaliel looked briefly to Hillel, but was basically unhesitant in his response. “We will send relief, and soon, to both of these areas.”

Not long after arrival at the home and gardens of the Agrippa family palace across town, Herod Joseph noticed that young Aristobulus was not to be seen among his extended family. He enquired around the house, and at first nobody knew of his whereabouts, and deep concern began to show on his face. His mother Mariamne and others also noticed that Ari Jesh was not among the revelers, and people had begun enquiring of his whereabouts.

A disappointed and upset, though still radiantly beautiful, young Salome turned to a family member at the gathering and enquired, “I thought that cousin Aristobulus was going to be here; he is the only reason I wanted to come to this place today. Where is he?”

She was fourteen years of age, and cousin Ari no longer seemed like a young boy to her, he was now sophisticated and insightful. Her uncle, Herod of Chalcis, had been raising him since he was a toddler, and loving him and teaching him as if he were his very soul. He wasn’t even a teenager yet, but he was already her best friend ever, and it bothered her that he was not here where she expected him to be.

Salome was to remember this day for all of her life, and though Jesh thought of it fondly, Sal considered it the beginning of a downward trend that kept her away from Ari Jesh for long periods of time. During her unhappy first marriage, she thought of this day and how she would someday marry the boy prophet, for very few had ever said Jahn Philip was the Messiah or the Annointed One, and even those few that said it were not considered reliable. When people referred to Jeshua as the Messiah or the Anointed, nobody ever seemed to say a word against him, and everyone proclaimed his goodness and worthiness. Was She also not the Holy Princess of Judaea, deserving of a Righteous King and all of Israel? Surely her destiny was not to be designated a half portion and an old man that only extremists still openly supported. Her mother Herodias would marry King Agrippa, changing the course of history, but all this would come much later.

Just as casual worry started to build into mounting familial concern, a latecomer to the gathering mentioned he had seen young Ari talking with Hillel and Gamaliel back at the Temple, to which Herod replied, “This is not a joke. You swear you saw my son just now with Hillel and Gamaliel inside the Temple?”

“Yes, my Lord, I swear that it was only a short time ago when I saw them walk into the council meeting room; it was onlyminutes before you yourself left the building, I am sure they dhould be finishing their discussion soon. I shall go and wait for him and then bring him here; shall I?”

Mariamne was told that he was safe, and everyone was content that the young Prince Jeshua Aristobulus was in the best possible place he could be, and they all expected the lad to join the party at any moment. Herod of Chalcis spent much of the time conversing with Bernice, and this had not gone unnoticed by the old and the young. She had grown into an intelligent, attractive young lady, and Herod Joseph was smitten with her charms.

Three and a half hours later Ari Jesh was still not there, and his family returned to the Temple to find him just leaving the council chambers, walking and still chatting with Gamaliel and the same two Rabbis who originally spoke with him in the dining room. The guard who had been waiting outside the door for him now walked slowly behind, still not wanting to interrupt what to him seemed to be dialogue of enormous import.


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